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Life-giving coffee

Lipscomb alumnus and faculty Rob Touchstone’s The Well Coffeehouse is changing the world one cup of coffee at a time.

Kim Chaudoin and Courtney Grable | 

The Well

Sometimes a warm cup of coffee provides a much-needed jumpstart to the day.

But, sometimes a cup of coffee is more than that. 

In fact, Rob Touchstone (’97, ’12) believes that the world can be changed one cup of coffee at a time.

One visit to The Well Coffeehouse located across the street from the Lipscomb campus and it’s easy to see how coffee—an estimated $27 billion annual market in the United States in 2023—is helping others down the street and thousands of miles away.

“If someone comes in for coffee and leaves a changed person … That's why we exist,” said Touchstone, co-founder of The Well, director of Lipscomb’s Center for Vocational Discovery and professor  at Lipscomb. Touchstone also serves as a minister at Christ Family Church in Nolensville.

Beginning in 2012, Touchstone and a group of his friends, including co-founder Charlie Dillingham (’05, ’10), have built a popular gathering spot, now in six locations in Nashville and Indiana, that serve some of the city’s best coffee, impacts people at various stages of their faith journeys and is bringing hope and relief to the oppressed, underprivileged and impoverished across the city and around the world.

Rob and Charles

Charlie Dillingham (left) and Rob Touchstone (right) came up with the idea for The Well while studying in Lipscomb's Bible programs.

The Well was born out of an idea Touchstone developed while completing a class project for his missional living class, taught by Earl Lavender (’77, ’86), professor of Bible. “I wanted to create a space where we could love people toward the living water of Jesus and invite the community into something bigger than themselves,” said Touchstone.  

“In  this class we were challenged to think about mission as a way of life and to imagine the church as something more than what happens for a couple hours a week in a church building. The Well became a vision designed to create an intersection for church, community, mission and culture by stepping outside the walls of our church buildings and meeting people right where they are in their lives,” said Touchstone. “I started thinking about what it would be like for a church to look outside of a traditional church setting to connect with people. God used my time at Lipscomb to give me this idea and for me to be exposed to a new way of visioning how we define and live church.” 

Finding a neutral place to meet people “where they are,” something that is not a traditional religious institution, that could serve as a gateway to “church,” became a passion for Touchstone.

What he and this team of friends built was a nonprofit missional coffee house that serves quality coffee, provides a gathering place for worship and significant conversations in an un-intimidating environment and uses its profits for various mission works. The Well offers “relational outreach that is organic and not manufactured,” said Touchstone.

The name of the coffee house is based on the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. 

“It was a natural meeting place where people came thirsty. Jesus met a woman in need there, and he changed her life,” said Touchstone. “What if we could participate with Jesus by turning coffee into life-giving water? What if we could bring about change in the world and help break poverty cycles? What if we could offer living hope by loving people into God’s Kingdom? We can. And we will. One cup of coffee at a time.” 

“We had so much momentum in such a short period of time,” said Dillingham. “God opened doors wide open for us. And the venture has been self-sustaining since the day we opened. I never dreamed we would be this busy.”

“As we developed this concept we realized that people around the world were dying because they didn’t have access to the most basic necessities of life. But we also recognized the local needs of people needing hope, love and community. The Well is our way to love our community world.” 

Patrons of The Well make a difference just by purchasing a cup of coffee. In its first years, profits from sales went to fund clean water efforts throughout the world through a partnership with the Living Water Project and Blood: Water Mission. Local needs were met through the Wishing Well, a wall at the entrance of the store where people post their needs and others can see those needs and fill them.

“We want to invite our guests into a story,” said Touchstone. “When you buy coffee or other products from us, you are contributing not only a few dollars but hope and life to people in desperate need. You are joining a mission. Ultimately, you are filling The Well so that, together, we can pour out hope into the lives of people. We serve our guests a cup of their favorite coffee. And they know that they are helping to serve the world.”

For nearly four years, the idea kept tugging at Touchstone’s heart. He shared his vision with Chris Soper, a veteran retail manager, who caught his passion. 

Finally, nearing the end of his graduate studies at Lipscomb in late 2011, Touchstone and Soper decided to share their vision with Dillingham, a certified public accountant with a heart for nonprofit initiatives. 

“While I was a student at Lipscomb I learned to view every aspect of life as a mission field,” said Dillingham. “It helped me to see that life is not compartmentalized. It’s all connected. That’s what this idea was about … that faith is found no matter where you go.”

Dillingham caught the passion and the trio soon shared their idea with Steve Morrow, Matt Yates and Walt Malone, all friends from Tusculum Church of Christ in Nashville, and Touchstone’s idea was on its way to becoming a reality. The team, all of whom had full time careers, launched into overdrive dreaming, planning and praying.

“This endeavor was a faith journey for us,” said Dillingham, who said he was inspired by the book, The Circle Maker, in which author Mark Batterson encourages readers to pray circles around one’s biggest dreams and greatest fears. Not long after the team was assembled, Touchstone gave this book to each team member and challenged them to pray boldly for this vision. “We had to keep our minds open to stretching boundaries and not limiting what we thought possible. We prayed wide open and the things that happened were nothing short of being from God.”

And, The Well Coffeehouse was born.

Soper left his management position and went to work building and developing The Well. His “sweat, blood and tears are the foundation of this place,” said Touchstone.

What he and this team of friends built was a nonprofit missional coffee house that serves quality coffee, provides a gathering place for worship and significant conversations in an un-intimidating environment and uses its profits for various mission works. The Well offers “relational outreach that is organic and not manufactured,” said Touchstone.

The Well

The Well is a nonprofit coffee house serving quality coffee, providing a gathering place for worship and significant conversations and using its profits for mission works.

It’s been over a decade since Touchstone first opened the first location for The Well and the missional coffee house has continued to make an impact in the community and around the world. Since then, the nonprofit has expanded to five locations in Tennessee and one in Fishers, Indiana, and has “donated more than $200,000 and impacted more than 50 communities and 20,000 people with clean water, health and dignity,” according to The Well website. 

The Well has worked alongside numerous foundations and organizations to help bring hope to communities around the world. In Rwanda, The Well worked alongside the Kahawatu Foundation to bring clean water to 7,000 households surrounding Mushonyi Coffee Washing Station. They partnered with Water4 in Kenya to ensure that over 1,200 people had access to safe, clean drinking water. 

Lipscomb University partnered alongside The Well, Living Water Project, and ADICAY to provide 89 homes in La Reforma in Guatemala access to safe water, reducing water borne diseases by 99%. 

In Nashville, The Well partnered with People Loving Nashville, Laundry Stop and Shower Up to serve locally after a devastating tornado impacted and displaced many in the Nashville community. 

Not only does The Well help the communities they serve have access to clean water, but they also serve quality coffee products that come from various locations around the world, including Ethiopia, Honduras, Tanzania, Mexico and Guatemala. 

“It is important to offer a quality product that distinguishes us from other coffee shops,” says Dillingham. “We have carefully selected locations around the world to supply the coffee we brew. We have gotten to know the farmers who have dedicated their lives to growing a quality product.” The Well offers their brews for purchase at all of their locations, as well as online on their website.

In addition to coffee, a variety of retail products from nonprofit partners are also available for purchase at The Well. Proceeds from sales of these products help bring hope to people around the world and in the community.

“Each of these products are handmade by people in places like India, Honduras, Haiti, Uganda and Ethiopia,” said Touchstone. “Each purchase helps break the poverty cycle by providing sustainable income.”

Touchstone’s vision for a place of community has been brought to life as people gather at the well for book discussions, live music and Bible studies. Lipscomb’s student musical artists regularly perform at the location across from the campus.

The Well concert

Lipscomb music students often perform at the stage at The Well's Green Hills location immediately across from the Lipscomb campus.

The business model for The Well has sparked a chain reaction of innovation across the Lipscomb community that spills into the city, creating opportunities for entrepreneurship students to find steady footing in Nashville.

Touchstone joined Lipscomb’s faculty in 2015 as a professor in the College of Business, using his experience founding The Well as the basis for the college’s business as mission (BAM) program which was offered from 2015 to 2022.

The BAM program taught students how to create and use a profitable business as a means of leveraging the marketplace to create sustainable solutions for the common good. Students learned through coursework, creating micro-businesses  participating in local and global learning experiences.

The Well’s legacy has been a spark of inspiration or a model for students to start coffee shops including All People Coffee in East Nashville, Belltower Coffee and Studio in Memphis and Kwizera Coffee, which operated in Nashville’s Rocketown youth facility.

Since 2022, Touchstone has directed the Center for Vocational Discovery, a campus-wide effort to help students discover their purpose while also preparing for a career.

 “We are about purpose and meaning and the integration of faith and work,” said Touchstone. “This space is a place to invite our students into a journey of discovery of their identity in Christ, their God-given purpose, their vocation and where they will go into the world to live out what God is calling them to do. We want our students to come here and learn that their education can be used to make the world a better place. We want our students to be transformed. We believe this center will impact generations to come.”

So, also, at The Well. Since opening its doors in July 2012, The Well has served countless communities, impacted numerous lives, and made a lot of cups of coffee. 

“You’re leaving something way beyond a handout,” says Touchstone. “You’re providing something that you know will last, hopefully even outlast your own efforts.” 

CVD Students

Today Touchstone directs Lipscomb's Center for Vocational Discovery, using his spiritual and entrepreneurial background to help students discover their path to a purposeful career.