Sharing Jesus in The Ugly Mug
Church planters Brenton and Rachel Fessler discovered that packaging Sunday morning services inside a local coffee shop attracts a less-than-typical demographic.
RefugeOC meets every Sunday in The Ugly Mug Coffee Shop in Old Towne Orange, California. This location is not just a magnet for the coffee drinkers at the local colleges — many people who have had negative experiences with churches in the past are finding their niche here. The church consists mostly of young singles and young families; they are educated, have professional careers, and are community-driven.
"With seating for up to 90 people, we have found this coffee shop to be a perfect place to establish our mission within the city," Brenton Fessler says. "It is ‘different’ and often less threatening to people."
Understanding what an effective church model looks like wasn't a hurdle for Fessler, who graduated with a degree in pastoral leadership from Vanguard University (AG) in Costa Mesa, California, and completed a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Vanguard.
"From the beginning, my context for ministry was founded on the principles of church planting and missional engagement within the community," Fessler says. Prior to coming to Orange, he served on staff for 12 years at North Hills Church in Brea, California, which had also started as a church plant. His experience there gave him a foundational vision for RefugeOC.
About five years ago, the Fesslers began to dream about a new church plant. "Despite our reservations, my wife and I felt it was exactly what God had called us to, which gave us the courage to pursue it,” Fessler says. Once the couple set their sights on center-city Orange, their church plant was adopted by Hope Church in San Diego, pastored by Frank Wooden. The Fesslers then moved to Orange and began to learn the city’s heartbeat by engaging with the community.
The seedling of what is now RefugeOC grew out of a series of Sunday night Bible studies, which gave core group members the opportunity to invite friends and family who didn't go to church and provided a base of people for the RefugeOC launch and leadership team.
The weeks leading up to the church launch were filled with non-stop activity, getting the word out and hosting multiple preview services. In addition to receiving the Matching Funds provided by AGTrust and the Church Multiplication Network, RefugeOC received support from the AG Southern California Network and North Hills Church.
RefugeOC held its kickoff service on Easter Sunday 2015 at the Ugly Mug with 93 adults and 14 children attending. Located between the classic Old Towne Orange on one side, with antique shops and Mom and Pop restaurants, and the premier Chapman University on the other side, Fessler says, “We are uniquely positioned to bridge the divide and capture the imagination, hearts and souls of our community. We exist to introduce and re-introduce people to a clearer vision of God.”
“When we first opened RefugeOC, the owner of the Ugly Mug didn't have a positive impression of churches or God. However, he has now let us pray for him and help him with his business in small ways. I am confident his story is just beginning.
“We hired a sound man; he didn’t have much to do with God at first. The church was paying him a weekly stipend, but after a few months he came to us and said he wanted to volunteer his time because he loves what the church is doing. He is subtly opening his life to God.”
The church recently launched a new season of Refuge Groups to help take the Sunday morning experience into the workweek for the people in the community. “RefugeOC is experiencing consistent growth,” Fessler says, “which presents its own set of challenges as church attendance maxes out the capacity of the coffee shop. We are considering offering multiple services, while keeping our eyes and ears open for what may potentially be our next location."