Coffee Houses in Lebanon and Cleveland are Making a Difference with Social Ministries
According to a Gallup poll, about two-thirds of Americans adults drink at least one cup a day of coffee with the average being almost 3 cups a day. Thankfully, it’s an enjoyable habit with research showing that moderate coffee drinking may be good for your health.
Although those are good reasons for The Salvation Army to have two thriving coffee shops in the Kentucky Tennessee Division, it’s not why they exist or why they are flourishing. The answers to those questions are more complex and interesting.
Inman Coffee was founded in 2011 in Cleveland, Tennessee. The Roast was founded in Lebanon, Tennessee, in 2013. Both serve as social ministries of The Salvation Army.
What exactly is a social ministry? Well, that’s kind of complicated, too. In a nutshell, it’s a ministry that follows the teachings of Jesus whose own mission was social outreach and service to others. Jesus demonstrated such service and instructed others to do the same. A social ministry means being ready to serve and love your neighbor – people of all ages in any situation or context – wherever they may be.
Neither local Salvation Army Corps had a community center of any kind. There was no place available for them to do ministry, so the local corps decided to create one.
In Cleveland, The Salvation Army decided it could utilize Joel Rogers’ experience operating a coffeehouse to minister to the community in a new way.
“I founded Inman Coffee in the fall of 2009. We proposed the program with The Salvation Army and got approval in late 2010, then it hit some delays but finally it opened in October 2011. We average serving about 4,000 people a month. So doing the math of 12 months a year for six years, that’s a lot of people,” Joel Rogers said.
Yes, it is – 288,000 to be exact.
“I had just graduated from Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee with a degree in Ministry. I was looking for a meaningful ministry. I’m from North Carolina and had done a smaller scale coffee house ministry there. Obviously, we love coffee and we love that we are able to open up the world of coffee to others and educate them about the process of coffee, too,” Rogers said.
The “we” he refers to, is his wife, Cheryl Rogers. She is the coffeehouse manager, while Joel Rogers focuses on the ministry part of things.
“In August 2009, I came to my first Salvation Army Bible study and just fell in love with the people. Inman Coffee started out with a very humble beginning. Cleveland has little activity going on for students except Wednesday and Sunday services. We wanted to be a consistent safe place for people. I’d rather them be here for support than at a bar,” Rogers said.
Inman Coffee offers a large variety of beverages – including hand-pulled coffee, Cuban coffee, espresso, cappuccino, latte, chai, and cocoa – but there’s something beyond the great tasting coffee that has people coming back for more.
“We focus on young people and leadership training. We’ve had over 100 students in our Leadership Program which focuses on life skills, job skills, personal development and service to the community. Our goal is to empower young people to make positive, God-honoring choices that will last a lifetime. We have live music and just had our 474th act this weekend. Once a month, we have a free coffee tasting. We show them what it takes to bring coffee to them from the nurturing of the plants, to the workers involved in the harvesting. When they buy their coffee from us, they are changing lives,” Rogers said.
The founder of Inman Coffee has big plans for the future, too.
“Our dream long-term is to grow this coffee house ministry well past the boundaries of Cleveland. We want to set this up in a way that can be easily duplicated. It’s a subtle ministry. We can love on our people when they come in. They don’t have to be pounded over the head with a Bible to know the love of God. That’s the culture we’ve set up. It’s not up to us to know how deep the relationships will become. We love them as Jesus would love them when they come here,” Rogers said.
Much like Cleveland, Tennessee, The Salvation Army in Lebanon, Tennessee, did not have a community center to do ministry.
“Our Lebanon Corps team is four to five years old. We wanted to create an alternative, something to do besides hangout at McDonald’s, Walmart or a bar in Wilson County. We didn’t need another chapel or building, we needed an alternative to drinking alcohol and an alternative to the bar scene. We are located near Cumberland University and the bars really target that age,” Sargent Tom Freeman said.
So, in April 2013, The Roast opened.
“We are a bit different from Inman Coffee. We’re really a different model. We are a ‘pay what you can’ coffee house. We have a suggested price. One person will give you more, another will pay less, but it works out,” Freeman said.
Another difference is that Inman Coffee is open every day of the week as a full service coffee house, while The Roast is open two evenings a week.
“We’re volunteer and soldier led. No one is paid. We’re open Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to midnight. We have a huge variety of people come in from high schoolers, to college students, to families. We get folks who are regulars and they come after work. We’ve seen many friendships form, which has been awesome. We’re loving it,” Freeman said.
In addition to having coffee, espresso, smoothies and Italian sodas, The Roast offers some unique ways to entertain and minister to others.
“We have a ‘Cup for the Wall’ where people can write some encouragement or a blessing or a mini-prayer, and when someone isn’t able to pay, they can get the cup of coffee and the message. We’ve had live music, karaoke, and open mike; often they’ll bring a buddy with a guitar. We have Canvas Night, where for $5 we supply a small canvas, acrylic paint, trays, and brushes. We have board game nights, too, where we encourage families to make it a night at The Roast. ” Freeman said.
Watching the popularity of The Roast increase has been rewarding for Freeman.
“The Salvation Army provides something pretty amazing here. I say ‘Look what God’s doing and join him.’ We looked at our team of volunteers and what their passions are and built things from there. Raechel Freeman, she’s my wife, and part of the team that brought the vision together,” Freeman said.
When asked about the impact of The Roast on the community, Freeman conferred with his wife and said: “The Roast is The Salvation Army’s community outreach that helps bind together generations, whole families. When The Roast’s not open, it’s outreach time. We have prayer groups and a young adult worship group from several different churches. Whenever other groups come in, they say this was the best meeting ever. There’s so much prayer going on in the building. It’s a binding agent for churches to come together and to work together. We are a safe space to make meaningful connections and friendships while keeping open to the Holy Spirit,” Freeman said.
To make things even better, both coffee houses use only Free Trade (The Roast) or Direct Trade (Inman Coffee) certified organic coffee beans. Fair Trade standards are regulated by Fair Trade USA, a non-profit third party. Direct Trade standards are determined and regulated by the coffee bean roasters. They visit the coffee farm regularly to determine the quality of the coffee and to make sure all standards are being met.
“Coffee trade is large and there is an incredible amount of abuse. We took time to partner with a roaster who only gets coffee beans in Direct Trade. We aren’t just looking out for people here; we are helping young families in Ethiopia live a better life. Our coffee is helping people literally around the globe,” Rogers said.
When it comes to social ministry, the ministers of Inman Coffee and The Roast are fulfilling Jesus’ hopes in a local and global way. What a perfect way to enjoy National Coffee Month.
To learn more about Inman Coffee, visit at 437 Inman Street, West, Cleveland, Tennessee, call (423) 305-6945, email Joel.Rogers@uss.salvationarmy.org or visit www.facebook.com/inmancoffee and www.inmancoffee.com. You can order coffee for delivery to your home through the website shop. The shop’s motto is “when you support Inman Coffee, you are supporting life change for incredible individuals both here and around the world!”
To learn more about The Roast, visit at 216 S Maple Street, Lebanon, Tennessee, call 615-784-9555, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.facebook.com/TheRoastLebanon/ and www.salvationarmytennessee.org/wilson-county/the-roast/.