Soul Cafe serves up gospel in Kerrville
___By Marv Knox
___KERRVILLE--Imagine a sonic boom, and you've got a good idea what worship in Kerrville's newest church sounds and feels like.
___Actually, Soul Cafe--a 9-month-old mission of First and Trinity Baptist churches--isn't quite that loud. Call it comfortably raucous.
___And that's just the way Soul Cafe members like it.
___They represent a growing core of 18- to 35-year-olds in this scenic Hill Country
community known more for retirement homes than for generations who will come of age in the third millennium.
|TODD PHILLIPS (second from left), teaching pastor at Soul Cafe, visits with some of the congregation after Sunday evening worship.
___"Our whole goal is to reach this generation for Christ," explained Shannon Hopkins, 26, the new congregation's ministry coordinator. "This generation" includes Generation X, today's crop of young adults, and their up-and-coming siblings, the Millennials.
___That goal propelled Hopkins and the sponsoring churches' pastors, Bill Blackburn at Trinity and Dave McFadden at First, to look outside the bounds of typical ministry in small-town Texas.
___"We were concerned about reaching a generation we didn't see us reaching in large numbers," McFadden said.
___"We felt we had to reach young adults who would not come to a traditional church," Blackburn added. "We didn't understand how to do that when we started."
___"And we still don't, but we're learning," McFadden said.
___They started by studying. Blackburn and Hopkins, who also is minister to college students and singles at Trinity and Baptist Student Ministries director at Schreiner College, attended a conference on ministry to Generation X sponsored by Leadership Network.
___Then they looked for ways to make a young-adult ministry work away from the bright lights of the big city.
___The two churches teamed up to sponsor the new congregation, symbolically mending a rift that occurred 50 years ago when Trinity split from First. They got support from Medina River Baptist Association and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. And they tried to think creatively.
___"We brainstormed, and it's fleshed out one step at a time" McFadden recalled. "We decided to let Shannon act as coordinator, to provide guidance and continuity. We brought in speakers; we brought in a band."
___Soul Cafe began last September in the renowned-but-ragged Arcadia Theatre in downtown Kerrville. The venue proved to be a good choice for a fast start.
___Live alternative-rock gospel bands and a parade of youthful preachers attracted crowds of teens and young adults disaffected by the trappings of traditional church. Soon, attendance at the Sunday night services eclipsed 100.
___But Soul Cafe's leaders realized the young congregation needed more stability and sought a permanent preacher.
___They called on Todd Phillips, 29, founder of Metro Ministries in Austin and San Antonio, a Gen-X ministry that has attracted between 700 and 900 young adults to evangelistic Bible studies every week.
___Phillips, who also was staff evangelist at Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio until last month, had preached at Soul Cafe several times and seemed a natural to become the church's first teaching pastor.
___Phillips--an open, outgoing preacher with a quick, warm smile--stands near the older end of the Gen-X age spectrum. But his years of ministry to teens and young adults have conditioned him to comprehend their mindset.
___"Gen-X is the first global generation," he pointed out. "They're the generation of the
Internet; they grew up on grassroots movements. They just may be the first generation to experience global revival."
|Innovative project mends split
___Kerville's newest church is helping to mend a rift between two of its oldest congregations.
___Soul Cafe, a ministry to the community's younger generations, is being sponsored by First and Trinity Baptist churches, which parted company five decades ago.
___"Trinity split from First," recalled Dave McFadden, pastor at First Baptist. "For a lot of my people, this (joint sponsorship) is very significant."
___The church fight 50 years ago was "huge" in the community, which then only had about 5,000 residents, added Bill Blackburn, pastor at Trinity Baptist.
___But the opportunity to work together to start a special congregation has impacted the churches, the pastors reported.
___"It's a growing experience for the congregations," McFadden said. "They're building trust. They're giving each other the benefit of the doubt. When I first came here, there was almost a competitive spirit. That's gone. It's replaced by the Holy Spirit. ... In the name of Christian unity and the lordship of Christ, we're doing what needs to be done to reach people for Christ."
___"This is good for the community to see," Blackburn observed. "It's a witness neither church could present on its own."
___But that will be a challenge, considering their outlook, he added. "More than any other generation, they don't believe in God. And those who do believe in God are likely to believe in 40 gods."
___Gen-Xers don't respect authority and don't appreciate rational thought, a god to their parents, Phillips explained, noting those two facts radically impact the way he preaches to Gen-Xers and Millennials.
___"What's the first thing your preacher says when he stands in the pulpit?" Phillips asked. "He says, 'Open your Bibles.' That works for boomers and builders (the two older generations), because they respect authority and accept the Bible. But it doesn't cut it for this younger generation."
___The "typical" sermon begins with Scripture, moves to illustrations of the Bible text and ends with life applications, he noted. But his Soul Cafe sermons turn that formula inside-out. He starts with real-life situations, talks about the challenges and problems that accompany those situations--like guilt, greed, emptiness--and concludes with building a barrage of Bible-based answers.
___The pattern is unconventional, Phillips concedes, but it meets the needs of his youthful congregation.
___Gen-Xers and Millennials in the area have responded well, Hopkins reported. "Most of our growth is new conversions," she said, noting 60 people have made professions of faith.
___ Hopkins and Phillips talk rapid-fire as they discuss the purpose and potential of Soul Cafe, a church they call "distinctively Baptist" despite its singularity.
___"We've got to reach this generation," Hopkins said, citing three priorities for the ministry:
___ "We want to get them involved with Christ, to find God's purpose for their lives."
___ "We plan to give them a place to develop and to understand true worship."
___ "And we intend to give them a global vision for evangelism. Within 18 months after getting saved and joining the church, we want 100 percent of our members to be on foreign soil, sharing their faith."
___Next month, Soul Cafe members will participate in mission trips to the Czech Republic and the Ukraine. This fall, a group will go to Peru.
___Although the congregation meets for worship on Sunday nights, it functions throughout the week in community and fellowship, Phillips said.
___"For many Gen-Xers, family ties are broken or very weak at best. They identify with their 'tribal clan' or community," he explained. That's why a church or ministry for them must emphasize relationships and provide opportunities for spiritual bonding.
___Soul Cafe's leaders intend to express that community and the truth behind it through the church's core values, to be represented by its ministry team.
___Phillips is the teaching pastor, and Hopkins will be the full-time ministry coordinator later this year. The church also plans to have a community minister, who will focus on discipleship, enabling small groups and coordinating response to needs, as well as a mission minister and a worship band.
___Hopkins and Phillips intend for Soul Cafe to become a self-reliant, autonomous church. Blackburn and McFadden aren't so concerned about that; they just want to reach the community for Christ.
___But given time, Soul Cafe will stand on its own, predicted Bob Craig, a consultant in the Texas Baptist Church Starting Center.
___"It's strategic that Soul Cafe is reaching a segment of our society we as Baptists have been slow to reach--young adults and singles," Craig said. "It will be a church, not a hip-hip-hooray fellowship. It will run 200 to 300 in attendance."
___Soul Cafe's strength is its approach to its constituents, he added. "It's not asking them to adjust to what we've already got. It's our willingness to adjust to meet their needs.
___"That takes a lot of capital," he conceded. But Soul Cafe is the beneficiary of generous and flexible partners, he added. That includes the sponsoring churches; Medina River Association, which has made a three- to five-year commitment; and Baptists' Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions. Planners also are seeking grants from foundations, he said, explaining, "Young adults don't have a lot of money."
___Still, Soul Cafe's model can be exported to other communities, Craig stressed. "If anybody wants to do this, they need a burning vision. This came out of much prayer."
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