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Worth more than beans

by Devin Thomas

Don’t call The Bridge at Beans “church.” That’s one thing co-pastors Bruce Johnson and Rita Wolf have learned since establishing the BIC congregation last year. Meeting every Sunday afternoon at the Beans, Books, and Beliefs coffeehouse and music café in Sterling, Ill., The Bridge at Beans “breaks the paradigm of church,” according to Bruce. “We don’t question whether people belong here. We’re just trying to be present, to edify the body, and to encourage one another.”

“Our goal is to reach people who are de-churched—folks who wouldn’t otherwise set foot in a worship service,” adds Rita. Their goal is met, she notes, through a combination of teaching and interpersonal interaction. On Friday and Saturday nights, Bruce joins a core member of The Bridge at Beans to play rock ’n’ roll covers—everything from James Taylor to Creedence Clearwater Revival to Nirvana—while folks enjoy chai, cappuccino, and homemade desserts. While they play, Rita spends time getting to know those who came. “I don’t go around evangelizing; it’s not about that,” she says. “It’s a relationship-building thing—people really open up to you in a one-on-one conversation.” And if the conversation turns to the worship services held at the shop, then, and only then, will Rita extend an invitation to come back on Sunday afternoon for a few praise songs, a video clip, a brief message, and discussion.

“What we’re doing is so outside the box, it’s scary,” admits Bruce, acknowledging the risk involved in such a unique outreach. But as Rita relates, their call to ministry transcends any single church plant: “We’re always going to be around. That’s something we’ve said from the very beginning. We’ll always be there for folks who just want a spot to sit, relax, talk, listen to good music, and—of course—eat some dessert.”

This article originally appeared in the winter 2008 issue of In Part magazine.

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