Community centered: Church commits new building, café ministry as ‘beacon’ of hope

Lisa Sergent —  October 5, 2015

Lifetree CafeHEARTLAND | Morgan Jackson

Every Tuesday and Thursday night, First Baptist Church in Waterloo hosts what Pastor Steve Neill calls “a scheduled hour of stories and conversations to feed the soul.” The weekly meeting around coffee and discussion, called Lifetree Café, resulted from the church’s dedication to use a new building to reach their community.

“Whether you go to a church or not, you’re always welcome at Lifetree,” said Cyndi Antry, a member of the team responsible for setting up the café each week.

The ministry probably wasn’t on anyone’s radar nearly three years ago, when an official press release announced the church’s plans to begin construction on “The Beacon.” The congregation had been envisioning the new building for quite some time, with an original goal to build an extra 8,000-square-feet onto their pre-existing building to accommodate more space for classrooms and activities.

The congregation had spent a year on the planning, development, and funding of the proposed building, when they realized a former nursing home connected to the church’s property was just sitting there…vacant.

The church purchased the 24,000- square-foot space at an unbelievably low price, said Lisa Dean, co-leader of The Beacon’s logistics planning team. And after 15 months, more than 80,000 hours of work, and help from over 700 volunteers from 40 churches across 18 states, The Beacon was finally completed.

The new building contains a fellowship hall, kitchen and dining room, entertainment stage, café, children’s education center, youth wing, recreation area, basketball court, and a capacity of 400 people. And its presence on Market Street offers great access to and for the community.

The Beacon is now home to a number of outreach programs for children and adults, and Lifetree Café has especially captured the community’s attention. The “conversation café” is a nationwide ministry with multiple sites in the United States and Canada. It is designed to be a safe place for people to explore their spiritual questions and to share their stories.

Discussion revolves around a specific topic each week—usually something spiritually and culturally relevant like prayer, loneliness, health, ADHD, guilt, life after death, justice, race, immigration, relationships, other world religions, stem cell research, and countless others.

A host team and friendship team run each session; the friendship team is in charge of setting up coffee and snacks, and one of six hosts leads the conversation.

Each Lifetree meeting lasts an hour and typically includes a short film, as well as small and large group discussion. People are also given helpful tips and applications they can take home and practice in their everyday lives—often printed handouts containing information on the week’s topic, as well as online links to learn even more.

No two meetings are the same, Antry said. “Some are very emotional. Some are very lighthearted.” It just depends on the week, the topic, and who God brings through the door.

FBC Waterloo’s Facebook page advertises “food for thought” as the main entrée at LTC. Pastor Neill says Lifetree is “sort of like a live, local talk show—with an inspirational twist.”

The ministry’s ultimate purpose is to help those who attend grow closer to God, but no one there is trying to “sell” people on a certain church or religion. Rather, the goal is to offer a place where individuals can come and ask questions, talk freely, and explore life. If God wants to work during a discussion and convict someone’s heart, he will, Antry said.

Lifetree just helps create a space where people can experience the Lord’s power.

“Here at Lifetree we have certain things we value,” said David Batts, chairman of the building committee for The Beacon. “Your thoughts are welcome, and your doubts are welcome. We’re all in this together.”

Lisa Sergent

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Lisa is IBSA Director of Communications. A Missouri native, she moved to Illinois 22 years ago and arrived at IBSA a few years later. Lisa and her husband, Chris, have been married 19 years.