Serving Coffee and Conversation in California

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Planting a church in an area known as a “church-planting graveyard” is a radical mission, but one that Rich Braaksma embraced 11 years ago. It required a radical approach.

Nickie Black manages the counter at The Talking Stick.

The Santa Monica/Venice area of California is one of the most unchurched and radically diverse parts of the United States. “Every kind of person, belief system, socio-economic position, idea, and sense of outward style is represented,” said Braaksma.

He started a coffeehouse, The Talking Stick, with the idea of being a listening ear to the community. That is just what happened.

“Baristas, like bartenders are considered priests in our culture—exalted ones whose ability to cook up a tasty beverage qualifies them to hear problems—have hearts and lives opened to them in frank and free speech,” said Braaksma.

While Braaksma has watched six church plants start and fail in the same area, The Talking Stick has become a “living room” for Santa Monica and Venice. It has brought in business people, commuters, people who are homeless, students, writers, musicians, moms, and nannies. “We invited [people] in and saw relationships formed and lives changed,” said Braaksma.

One person whose life changed is Nickie Black. Black began as an employee at the nonprofit coffee house but quickly became a vital connection to the community, especially the musicians. After working at the coffeehouse for a while, he nervously showed up at the church that meets there on Sundays. “He just kept coming, and about a year later he was a follower of Christ and playing not only on Saturday night at The Stick, but Sunday morning with the worship team,” said Braaksma.

They intentionally don’t promote the The Talking Stick as a Christian coffeehouse, Braaksma said. “When people find there is a church that meets there, they are genuinely curious, and when they find out that the guy being a normal person is the pastor, or an attendee, their perception of church changes, and they are opened up not just to the genuineness of the barista but the possibility of a genuine God to meet them.”

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