HANNIBAL — Steve Youngblood said he has been told the North Street Station Ministry Center and coffee shop has the feel of a Christian version of "Cheers."
"Because, like the old 'Cheers' song said, 'Sometimes you just wanna go where everybody knows your name,'" Youngblood said. "Only this is a coffee shop, instead of a bar."
The Quincy (Ill.) Herald-Whig reported that 54-year-old Youngblood, who for most of his life has been a northeast Missouri resident, has been involved in ministry for 30 years. Last year he helped establish the North Street site as a "marketplace ministry."
Located next to the Tom and Huck statue at the base of the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, there's a wide range of activities and Christian-related themes provided. Along with a simple coffee house atmosphere in part of the site, the center also features a bookstore, provides outreach ministries and hosts small-group meetings, Bible studies, worship, music, seminars, prayer support and general conversation.
"Something like this had always been in the back of my mind, and I felt this (site) was the perfect place," said Youngblood, who has a ministerial background in Hannibal and for more than a decade has worked as a church consultant and church planter for Church Foundations in Kirksville.
Youngblood, who also pastors a church in Burlington, Iowa, and recently spoke at Chaddock in Quincy, Ill., feels the marketplace ministry concept is on the cutting edge of modern worship. The rise of nondenominational ministry has been seen at both the national and local levels, from the emergence of megachurches to smaller outreaches such as North Street Station.
"The church as we know it is in radical transformation," Youngblood said. "The church has been seriously weakened by pride, religion, politics and a loss of vision and leadership. We are serving a generation who will not conform to past norms simply because of man-made traditions.
"Every aspect of Christianity is being examined and evaluated by a new generation of bright, fresh and excited new thinkers.
"We're not here offering religion," Youngblood said. "That's the last thing we need — more religion. We don't want a bunch of man-made rules. Anything that tries to motivate you with fear or shame is religion. That's not God."
The ministry center opened last fall following about six months of renovation at the site. The coffee shop opened earlier this month. Bills are paid primarily through donations.
Carol Tatman of Hannibal is a frequent visitor and, like others, also helps out as a volunteer.
"It feels so homey here," she said. "The atmosphere is special."
Tatman said there are informal men's groups who meet for coffee, and Youngblood said local pastors sometimes gather there. The site is also popular for musicians and interested parties who hear about North Street Station by word of mouth.
"We've had people from Burlington, Iowa, to Columbia come here," said Elena Kroeger, who serves as North Street Station's ministry director.
Kroeger, who teaches a Wednesday morning "people builders" class, understands why some who have heard about North Street Station but have not visited might question its purpose or validity.
"Until you see it, you don't get it," she said.
Even the coffee served at North Street Station is a different from the norm. It is premium coffee from around the world, supplied by efforts that support Baptist and Assemblies of God missionaries. Proceeds help support causes from education in the Middle East to combating human trafficking in India.
"Life-changing coffee is sold there," Tatman said.
One of the weekly highlights is usually Saturday's "Word and Worship." Some weeks, it could be entirely music, provided by singers and musicians who volunteer their efforts. At times, the music — and the verbal sharing of the message — might spill out into the street.
Kroeger said part of the reason for the location of North Street Station — in the city's historic district — is to have a presence among the tens of thousands of tourists who frequent Hannibal during the year.
"We are here to serve visitors to Hannibal and to help anyone who comes through our doors," Youngblood said.
The Rev. John Davis of Tabernacle of Praise Church in Hannibal helped lead worship last Saturday and told a turnout of about 20: "We don't know he's all we need, until he's all we have."
The crowd was a mix of young and old, male and female. At times some stood, some kneeled, some prayed in their own quiet way while others raised their hands. An older man wept while a younger woman clapped her hands.
Praise choruses are the norm, featuring both traditional and contemporary refrains.
Kroeger said there is little that is conventional about how worship is approached at North Street Station.
"You may not see a cross hanging anywhere, but you will know Jesus is here," Kroeger said.
Along with a good cup of coffee.