HICKORY, NC (May 17, 2010) – Three months ago, Teena and Jeff Stewart launched Java Journey, “a church disguised as a coffee shop.”
“The ministry sprang from the vision Teena had when she saw the natural rapport coffee shops offer,” Jeff says. “We felt strongly it would be a natural place to reach people for the cause of Christ.”
Jeff says a recent conversation with two men who walked into the shop on a Sunday morning highlights the ministry’s approach. The shop is closed for business, but has an “open participation gathering from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
The men wanted to know more about the shop since they had dropped in the previous Friday night, when live music is performed. “When I told them we were “a church disguised as a coffee shop” they were intrigued,” Jeff says.
“It was sort of like the woman at the well, where conversation naturally flowed from basic need to spiritual matters.” Jeff recalls. “They wanted to talk about spirituality, energy and Jesus.”
Both men attended church when they were younger, but left after coming to the conclusion that Christians are too judgmental. The shop provided an opportunity to offer them a new perspective. Prior to leaving, one said, “I’m a New York cynic (about organized religion), but this place is a good place. We’ll be back.”
The Stewarts (lower photo) moved to North Carolina from the San Francisco area, where they were serving a church. Starting the ministry has meant sacrifices for them.
The Stewarts were able to sell their home before prices plunged, and the couple moved to Hickory. It wasn’t much later, however, that the economic downturn would hinder efforts to start the ministry.
“We worked part-time jobs at a storage unit while using the proceeds from our house to purchase used equipment and furnishings, but we came up short when it came to getting the rest of the loan,” Stewart says. “As the economy spiraled downward, no bank would lend to start-ups.”
The Stewarts were undeterred, believing they are following God’s lead. Although the couple believes the shop eventually will be self-supporting, they have chosen to work without salaries and rely on volunteers to help run the business.
To support themselves, Teena works full time at Safe Harbor Rescue Mission. Jeff, an ordained Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) minister, officiates at interscholastic high school and college sports.
Another couple, Ben and Rebekah Curfman, recently moved from Asheville, North Carolina, to Hickory to help start the ministry. “We’re all working long hours without income, but the ministry aspect is exciting,” Jeff says. “We have a leadership core of six people and more than a dozen volunteers who help out on a regular basis. There is a very positive momentum now.”
Many of the attendees are members of Living Hope Covenant Church, which serves as the umbrella organization for Java Journey. Living Hope previously operated a coffee house called “Cup of Life.”
The need for innovative ministries is driven by the lack of attendance at churches, says Stewart. He points to a study by George Barna who wrote in a 2006 article that “spirituality may be hot in America, but 76 million adults never attend church.”
“This fuels the passion we want to pursue as we go about the vision of Java Journey,” Jeff says. “We are not competition with local parishes or even coffee shops. We hope to compliment both endeavors, especially the former.”
The Sunday gatherings have what Jeff calls an “organic” expression as opposed to an organized worship format. The lead teaching is shared. “Those who are in attendance are free to add how Christ is transforming their own lives.” Despite the lack of formal structure, “each week is well-ordered and far from chaotic.”
The ministry already is providing a number of outreach opportunities. “In the short time we’ve been open we’ve provided Bible studies and support to women from a women’s rescue mission, launched a young adult Bible study and gathering, held devotional and support gatherings for local artists, and provided lay counseling for a variety of clients,” Jeff says. “Presently we are working with another woman on launching an older singles Bible study.”
Teena, who Jeff says is “the visioner,” is using the knowledge that led her to previously write the book, “Successful Small Groups – From Concept to Practice.”
Java Journey provides the space rent-free to recovery and other Christian organizations. Although it is not an official plant of the Evangelical Covenant Church, Jeff says the church has given 10 percent of its income to Covenant World Relief, the Southeast Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and other ministries.
To learn more about the ministry and its history, visit its blog.