Outside, on the corner of 6th and Arizona, a sidewalk chalkboard sign with an arrow pointing toward a building’s entrance simply states that there’s “Fast Wi-fi,” and on the other side of the board a quote about coffee being the “lifeblood that fuels the dreams of champions.”
At first glance, it’s hard to imagine that this retro, two-story building freshly painted gray and white, and dubbed “METROPOLIS” is home to a church. Once inside, a coffee shop with great laptop spaces and a co-lab work floor for entrepreneurs on the second level don’t reveal the structure’s true purpose.
However, as one becomes part of the conversation inside Metropolis, it becomes clear that emanating from this downtown Santa Monica corner just six blocks from the ocean is in fact a good dose of Jesus.
“From the very beginning, we just realized that it’s poor stewardship that ‘the church’ is empty so much of the week,” said Metro Church (Metro Calvary Chapel) pastor Steve Snook in a recent interview with Together LA. “Growing up, seeing the church empty and not being used 24/7 I just thought, ‘This is not good, so we will never do this.’”
Snook, whose father was a pastor, grew up spiritually and as a young pastor in the Calvary Chapel (Chuck Smith founder) system of doing church. In 1987, before “small groups” became mainstream, and before Starbucks even surfaced, he said had a vision of gatherings “almost like fires” for discipleship and mutual entrepreneurial growth in coffee shop-style settings in the Los Angeles basin, including Downtown L.A., Malibu, and the hills of Hollywood.
He said it’s difficult for churches and many Christians to grasp the concept of going beyond Sunday worship services in the form he’s talking about. “They love the idea, but it’s hard for them. I think there’s an intimidation or something,” he said.
When asked about how a co-lab workspace used for businesses such as start-ups and creatives inside the church walls fits in biblically, Snook explains, “A number of years ago, I began asking this question, ‘What is the church, really?’ Not just what’s just been handed down but what is the church and how does it operate practically.
“When I was a young guy, I was somewhat idealistic and I looked at [Apostle] Paul’s picture of the church like a body or like a temple that had a foundation that was already laid, Jesus Christ being the cornerstone… that it’s being built not on only the Apostles and Prophets, but we, as in second Peter, are like living stones built into the spiritual house that God dwells.”
He said he would read other parts of the Bible that would illustrate the church as the body of Christ and that the different parts would work together.
“There’s an element of collaboration that has to come about,” Snook continued. “There’s a picture of Christ being manifest through His body. He has a unified body and every part has to function. The Holy Spirit is the administrator. So, in the same way, we asked what would that look like practically. We started looking at how is the church operating in the marketplace? That’s when we started finding out that someone was like hands, someone was like feet, some were more like the voices, and some were like the ears.
“For us it was realizing that like in Nehemiah’s time everyone was building the wall, and everyone had this place, and we had to learn to work together.”
Snook said that once the vision of collaboration started catching on at his church, people started coming together to use each other’s talents. Instead of first going outside the church for help in the workplace, he said that members first started looking inside the church “with people we already have a relationship with.”
His vision of the coffee houses in the Los Angeles area came in a series of dreams over seven to ten days in 1987, he said.
“I saw these gathering places up close [in my dreams] and I realized that this was the church. This is what we’ve been praying for,” he described. “I knew there was coffee there, and I saw these espresso machines.”
He said he didn’t quite understand all of the dreams, but there were panel discussions and forums. “I saw [these gatherings] in key places that were more of the hubs of the region. For me, I had a vision to walk out (move forward slowly). It was confirmed to me. We started with small groups, kind of a new picture of what the church was supposed to be. At the time, there were mostly community groups. We just started walking it out.”
Snook said that he and his wife started a coffee shop within a vintage boutique in Santa Monica shortly after his dreams with the idea that this would be a way to “show Jesus up close.” The space included comedy nights, “Philosopher’s Cafe” evenings, and events for children alongside their parents.
“We had the cool coffee house going with all these events, including an alpha course (introduction to Christianity),” he said. Snook’s ministry and church have had several different locations, looks, and style of operation over the years. Metropolis appears to be the culmination of “walking out” what God has planned for Snook and this group of believers.
“The work we are doing right now at Metropolis we believe is a business model, it’s a ministry model, it’s whatever model you want to talk about that other church planters could follow,” he said. “This is a city of dreamers, and a lot of people within the church want to do great things for God, but to walk it out means that you are going to have to pay the price… means that you may have to put ‘everything I am’ into this.”
Rodrigo Robles, who is on the church staff, said that one way to describe what’s happening at Metropolis is like this: “We have a space, which we are very fortunate to have, that is more than a building. It’s an organism and it has life,” he said, adding that it’s not a dormant facility.
“Metropolis for me, and what I hope it becomes for our community is a kind of park-like setting that’s accessible throughout the whole week,” Robles said. “I hope it becomes a place where there’s life seven days a week. I hope it becomes a place where people feel free to come inside and read a book, to go outside and get some sun, grab a coffee and a bag of chips with their friends.
“I hope it becomes a house of hospitality, and through that, people can begin to question ‘How is this so?’ and ‘Why are people so nice here?’ and then we can share why, which [the answer] is Jesus. It’s an opportunity to breathe life into a corner of this awesome city every single day in some way, shape or form every single day in Christ.”
TLA NOTE: Join Metropolis for its Grand Opening Celebration on February 25 from 7 to 10 pm. EVENT INFO
Photos by John Fredericks/Together LA.