Jeff Lothamer describes himself as a nontraditional missionary—sharing the gospel one cup of coffee at a time.
The founder of FLTR Coffee in Bicester, Oxfordshire, England, Lothamer would typically be found in the beginning behind the bar, clad in an apron, serving lattes and speaking with locals who have become his friends. Lothamer has seen lives changed. He’s seen faith rekindled. And to God’s glory, he’s planted seeds in the ground that God is making fertile.
“We didn’t realize how hard it would be when we moved here,” Lothamer admitted, “but it’s been a real joy to serve and to step out in faith.”
Founded in 2017, FLTR Coffee was an answer to a question that Lothamer had pondered ever since he moved his family to the U.K. in 2011— how would he reach the unchurched masses? In recent polls from Eurostat, about half of the British population say they do not believe in a deity. Lothamer describes the whole of Europe as a “post-Christian” society. Although God called him to the U.K. to plant a church, Lothamer had no idea how to get anyone interested in a God they didn’t even believe in.
Until he started roasting his own coffee in his back garden. “It definitely didn’t taste good,” he admitted with a laugh. But it sparked an idea—coffee shops provide spaces for collaboration, community and plenty of opportunities for sharing the gospel. So with the help of friends and professionals the LORD brought into his life, Lothamer opened one of the first independent coffee shops in the town of Bicester, one that focused on coffee, community and generosity.
When thinking about what to name the coffee shop, Lothamer tossed ideas around with some friends and landed on FLTR—“filter” without the vowels. When he came home and told his wife, Christie, about the name, she gasped.
“The LORD put a phrase on my heart today,” she told him. “Full life through relationships, abbreviated as the acronym FLTR.”
Throughout his ministry at the coffee shop and church, Lothamer has seen examples like this of God’s providence and guiding hand. Before establishing FLTR, he and Christie endured several setbacks and challenges in establishing FLTR and the church, Journey Communities, in the town. But at every turn, God provided—whether it was through a monetary donation of exactly the right amount or a relationship with the judge of the U.K. Barista Championships.
FLTR was a good step in Lothamer’s ministry journey, but he still felt something was missing. People weren’t interested in Jesus, and Journey Communities wasn’t seeing people join their church. People loved the community of FLTR, but that wasn’t translating to the community of church.
“Everyone loves the idea of the kingdom of God,” Lothamer said, “but they love the idea of the kingdom without the King.”
One day, a friend of Lothamer’s stopped by the shop and looked around at the community that was happening, the conversations taking place.
“Jeff,” said his friend, “this is church.”
It clicked for Lothamer. Church didn’t have to be a central place where people joined and gathered together. It could happen on the margins, in homes, in coffee shops, in small spaces across the U.K. Small spaces like FLTR, on Sunday mornings, with a latte in hand.
The FLTR Community Microchurch now meets every Sunday within the shop. Lothamer gathers a small congregation each week for prayer, Scripture reading, a sermon with dialogue, worship and, of course, amazing coffee.
The Lothamers are now in the process of establishing a microchurch network across the U.K., focusing on activating missionary disciples to create spaces for worship and community—“micro” expression of church. In fact, they are working to transfer leadership of the FLTR community microchurch to leaders in their church so that they can do new pioneering work.
Lothamer describes himself as a pioneer—always ready for something new. When he and his wife arrived in the U.K., he knew the LORD wanted him to press into the “new wineskin” of 21st-century ministry. He doesn’t always see the fruit of that ministry. While he’s witnessed some of his coffee shop patrons reignite their faith, he’s seen many continue to struggle or even reject Jesus altogether. However, people are curious about how they live, and Lothamer has hope and trusts that the LORD is not done working in their hearts.
“A pastor once described the U.K. as a farm, but the soil is covered with cement,” Lothamer said. “Our job as ministers is to break up the cement and till the soil. I’ve watched so many nonbelievers begin a faith journey, and sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back. But I keep having faith, pressing forward and loving them well.”
You can find out more about how to partner with the Lothamers at gemission.org/missionaries or by emailing email@example.com. To learn more about FLTR and the microchurch network, visit fltrcoffee.co.uk or microchurch-network.mn.co.