Every Sunday morning, Little Italy transforms from a pizza restaurant to a place of worship.
Phoenix Community Gainesville has been calling the Riverside Drive restaurant home for a little more than a year. It’s one of four campuses run by Phoenix Community of Atlanta.
“We’re Christians just trying to follow Jesus the best we can,” Phoenix Community-Gainesville pastor Jeff Bagwell said of the nondenominational church.
The worship service is simple, Bagwell said, and the church itself claims to be a place for people to connect on a deep level of “like-brokenness” that transforms isolation into community.
“We have a few people that play instruments and we have a time of worship and we’re also able to share with each other and pray for each other,” he said.
What sets the church apart, however, may be the way it’s outlook on funding.
During the week Bagwell and pastors from other Phoenix Community churches roast coffee beans for the church’s coffee company, Phoenix Roasters.
“All of us are full time pastors and full time coffee roasters,” Bagwell said.
The fresh coffee is then bagged and sold to individuals, coffee shops and churches, as well as on Phoenix Roaster’s website, https://phoenixroasters.coffee.
“The goal is ultimately my salary comes 100 percent from the coffee company so whatever is put in the offering plate (at church on Sunday) is used to meet needs in the community,” Bagwell said.
But if a church member wants to skip the offering plate and contribute directly to someone in need, that’s fine, too, Bagwell said.
“We try to leave it where we can empower our people to go and meet needs on their own,” he said. “We’re not so programmed and structured that the church has to lead this type of ministry and outreach.”
Phoenix Community-Gainesville members are encouraged to get out into the community and be servants and loving people.
“Our goal is that people if know of a financial need they can meet, we want them not to tithe that in the financial offering,” Bagwell said.
By serving others and being involved, Bagwell says important relationships are built.
“That’s where they’re building relationships and coming across people who would never ever come to the church,” he said.
According to the Phoenix Roasters website, each bag of the coffee sold also helps domestic relief projects such as ending the commercial exploitation of children, ending homelessness, restoring abuse victims, supporting single mothers, and more.
The church isn’t using coffee sales to get wealthy, Bagwell said, but to help its ministry be more generous financially to others.
“It’s pretty sweet,” said Nicole Zuniga. “I think it takes a lot of pressure off the people, it’s a good thing. It’s helping people plus people love coffee.”
Phoenix Community of Atlanta decided to venture into coffee making after exploring several different options.
“What we seemed to land on was coffee and how there were these coffee farmers around the world who were believers in Christ,” Bagwell said. “It just worked out that God opened up that door and provided for us.”
Phoenix Roasters partnered with three Christian coffee farmers in (Panama, Honduras and Guatemala.)
“They set a price for coffee and we pay them directly,” Bagwell said. “They pay all their workers a fair living wage.”
Phoenix Roasters takes mission trips to coffee farms throughout the year to build relationships with farmers.
“Our coffee company is coming along saying we want to elevate you and pay you a fair living wage,” Bagwell said.
Bagwell said the farmers they work with don’t just say they love Jesus, they act like it.
The coffee is available ground or whole bean and in light, medium, dark and espresso roasts as well as k-cups.
Bagwell said all of the coffee is very fresh, the beans are roasted in Decatur, and their k-cups are very popular.
Learning about coffee has been a great experience, Bagwell said, it’s also taught him about different people around the world who are using it to supplement ministry in different ways.
The church is small, informal and casual, Bagwell said.
Usually about 20 to 35 people attend the weekly service, but as many as 50 people have come at one time.
Eventually the hope is Phoenix Community - Gainesville will outgrow Little Italy and build a permanent church of their own in the community.
“In the meantime we’re going to keep loving and trying to help people we come across in the Gainesville-Hall County area,” Bagwell said. “When it comes down to it our goal is to see life transformation in Christ.”
Nicole Zuniga attends Phoenix Community - Gainesville services with her husband and three children. The family joined the church in February.
“The atmosphere is very homey, it’s very comfortable,” Zuniga said. “We interrupt during service if we have a questions. It’s very comfortable.”
Other church activities include in-home Bible studies every other Tuesday night and helping out at Good News at Noon the third Saturday of each month.
At Good News at Noon the church leads a worship service and feeds people there a meal. Good News at Noon provides meals to those in need, and Phoenix Community’s involvement falls under its desire to be involved in and help the community.
Lester Miller and his wife serve as youth directors at the church. He said the vision of the church and it’s idea of serving the community with tithe money is something the couple feels strongly about.
“I believe a lot in serving the community so one of the things that me and my wife are passionately involved with is serving Good News at Noon,” Miller said. “I believe that’s what Jesus did. He didn’t come to be served but to serve many.”