Congregations hear it a lot these days: innovate or die.
First Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina has taken that advice to heart by operating a barbecue food truck in its downtown parking lot.
And Also With ‘Cue was launched Oct. 28 as a for-profit venture and as a vehicle for feeding homeless and other impoverished neighbors. Its name derives from the historic call-and-response “Peace be with you/and also with you.”
The business-ministry operation is already paying spiritual dividends, said Leah Reed, minister with community at First Baptist and one of the architects of the project.
“It’s neat to watch the melting pot that is becoming our parking lot,” Reed said. “People who would never have stepped foot on our property are now sitting on our tables and meeting people they would have never met.”
It looks a lot different from traditional approaches to doing church – which is the point, she said.
“This is an effort to reach out and be connected in the community – that’s what church is all about.”
‘In need of a hot meal’
Some in the congregation, at least initially, weren’t so sure about that, Reed said. They were concerned about mixing capitalism and church.
But months of side conversations and seeing the project unfold helped calm some of those worries, she said.
But mixing faith and commerce actually has ancient roots, said David With, a Baptist minister and pit master who runs the daily operations of And Also With ‘Cue.
“A lot of the early evangelism happened in the marketplace,” he said.
In part, the food truck was born from With’s doctoral dissertation on ways churches can generate alternative revenue streams using for-profit business models.
The project solidified when With’s academic focus met Reed’s desire to launch innovative missional ministries in the downtown community.
It helped that With has more than a decade of catering and barbecue contest experience. He also is a former minister with students at Hayes Barton Baptist Church, another downtown Raleigh congregation.
With splits the food sales profits with the church. The congregation’s portion is used to feed the hungry from the truck and to fund a missions grant.
The business operates during lunch hours Monday through Friday.
There’s also a spiritual dimension to the venture for With, who said And Also With ‘Cue helps him live fully into his calling as a Baptist minister.
“I wanted to find a way that my ministry could bring revenue into the church by serving barbecue not only to customers but to folks in need of a hot meal,” he said.
‘Meeting people we never met before’
The project has enabled others in the congregation to use their professional skills for ministry.
“You’re definitely more emotionally invested in a project when you’re doing it for the church,” said First Baptist member Chuck Underwood, a professional graphic artist who volunteered to design the stained-glass pig logo for the venture.
The goal was to meld the concepts of a modern food truck serving barbecue in a downtown setting while also conveying church and faith, he said.
The effect has filtered through the rest of the congregation, Associate Pastor Trey Davis said.
“The response has been awesome,” Davis said. “It’s a huge energy boost for the church.”
The lesson for the greater church isn’t to operate food trucks but to tap internal resources for relevant external ministries, Reed said.
“Go out and capitalize on whatever your community of faith does well,” she said. “It just so happens we had a pit master in our midst.”
And so the ministry goal is simple but profound, she said.
“We are trying to connect with the community over a barbecue sandwich.”