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The Explosion (and decay?)

of Coffee Bar Evangelism

The "Barge Inn" (Cheadle, November 1964) was one of the first, if not the first, of what were to be many Christian Coffee Bars that were to become so popular as a means of Christian outreach in the 1960s and 1970s.  It was certainly the first one that the crossBeaTs identified where the pattern opposite was cycled through during the evening, while people sat around drinking coffee (as opposed to those meetings where 'coffee was served').  We always looked back to the "Barge Inn", with Stuart Briscoe, as being the start of it all.  To us, it was as though the term "coffee bar evangelism" was coined at this time.  

However, Stuart Briscoe informed me (September 2001) that there was at least one coffee bar of that type before the "Barge Inn".  The "Bar None" happened in Guildford Surrey in conjunction with Dr. Tony Hanne (who later moved to Aukland, New Zealand).  Another contender for "the first" might be something run by Bill Batham around that time.  An earlier contender with which we were involved was "The Southport Project" (Ken Terhoven and Eric Sinclair) at which we played on the 22 & 24 August 1964.  Ken Terhoven was running what he called 'Late-Nite Specials', and this booking was described in our diaries as a "café".  My recollection is that it took place in a building on the corner of a road on the 'front' at Southport; I think it was the 'Victoria Tea Rooms', but I cannot be sure.

Another, even earlier, contender for the 'first' might be the "D-Dive" on 12 October 1963 (see bookings page).  This was in the basement in the house of Pastor Alan White of the Liverpool City Mission (Wellington Road).  The house was at 38 Garmoyle Rd off Gainsborough Rd, and the D-Dive had been formed to bring young people into the church via the coffee bar atmosphere of the basement.  The term 'coffee bar' had not been coined in relation to youth evangelism at that time.  Again, perhaps the significance of 1964 and the "Barge Inn" was that the term "coffee bar evangelism" was introduced, and gospel groups were used in this way.
The Catacombs in Manchester was one famous Christian coffee bar in the UK, and was probably the first to have full-time workers.  It ran from 17 December 1964 to around December 1971, opening 'full-time' on 24 October 1965.  On a typical evening, there would be a live group, with 3 or 4 spots. In between these spots, background music would be played (for conversations), and there would be spots for an evanglistic speaker. Such was the dearth of recorded contemporary Christian music, that the Catacombs would record live groups, and then make tapes of assorted groups for playing as background music later.  Some of these recordings are available from this site on CD - but only include the crossBeaTs music.  When 'coffee bar' evangelism of this type became extremely popular in the UK, up to 70% of all crossBeaTs bookings were in coffee bars (see below).  By 1970, however, there were those predicting that the demise of the coffee bar culture in the UK meant that this form of evangelism was soon to end.  See the article in the January 1970 edition of Buzz magazine.
A graph of the number of known crossBeaTs coffee bar meetings per month (ie those noted as being 'coffee bars' in the diary rather than simply those where 'coffee was served') looks like this:

Although the group's first booking was in January 1963, you can see that the coffee bars started in November 1964.  If the above graph is smoothed out (by averaging over a number of months), it looks like this:

It seems from this graph, that peaks occurred over Christmas and the winter months.

As a percentage of the crossBeaTs bookings, coffee bars reached a peak of about 70% in the autumn of 1967, as the following graph shows.  This gives some indication as to how popular they became as a form of youth evangelism.  It is not clear that they 'decayed' after 1973 (as the graph seems to imply), as the details of crossBeaTs bookings after this time are more uncertain (we don't know whether bookings were or were not coffee bars).

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