Music becomes ministry

More than nine months ago, musicians Joe Bartell and Christine Wood – both active Christians – sat down to organize a way to bring together what they loved most. Today, the Selbyville-based, nonprofit Acoustic Café sets aside one night each month to combine tunes, treats and togetherness in a free, concert-like occasion.

Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT: Joe Bartell and Christine Wood, partners in Acoustic Cafe, are trying to bring a more contemporary view to worship. The event is held once per month and features tunes and treats.Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT:
Joe Bartell and Christine Wood, partners in Acoustic Cafe, are trying to bring a more contemporary view to worship. The event is held once per month and features tunes and treats.

It began as an event through Bridges International, a program spin-off of Campus Crusade for Christ, as an outreach to local exchange students.

“Our pastor wanted a reception for these students,” said Bartell, “and we had wanted to do something like this for a long time. The opportunity presented itself and it took off from there.”

Acoustic Café provided Bartell and Wood the chance to mesh together their love of music and the familiarity of a coffee house with an alternative way of worship. After mulling over names to call the event, it was Bartell’s daughter Carly who came up with the name for it all.

“Sometimes we try to make things harder than they are,” Wood said with a laugh, “but Acoustic Café is exactly what it is.” Local performers and singer-songwriters, and some from as far away as Virginia, return each month to put on a show – bringing rock, folk, alternative and pop sounds together.

More importantly, it gives people an outlet from the traditional ways of worship.

“It’s more of a modern way to learn about God and meet to people,” said Wood. “We’re steering this towards a more contemporary style. There’s nothing uptight about Acoustic Café. It’s an escape from some of the other approaches of worship that people become bored with. When people walk inside, I think they’re often taken aback. It’s a lot different than what they expect – it doesn’t really give people the impression that they’re in church. It’s a much less intimidating form of worship.”

“Kids will run across the stage and do cartwheels,” added Bartell, “and it doesn’t bother anyone. We’re trying to get the adults to do that.”

For him, the ultimate purpose is for people to make new connections and meet one another.

“It’s all about relationships,” Bartell said. “Without them, we are empty, and it’s much more than establishing a relationship with God – it’s forming relationships with each other.”

The evening is ideal for individuals, couples, friends and families, they said. A child-care service keeps an eye on the little ones while others can enjoy each other’s company during the evening.

“We have a lot of people who are like-minded,” added Wood. “It’s a very welcoming environment. Everybody has a need to feel loved, and they get that here.”

While those attending the Acoustic Café may come across an electric guitar or bass here and there, it is primarily the acoustic guitar and percussion that set the rhythm of the night.

Acoustic Café has been an ever-changing process, adapting and improving from each and every session. The format, Wood noted, has been one of the leading concerns over the past nine months.

“As each month went by,” she said, “we kept trying new things. We really had no idea what it would become.” The first months were compared to a dinner and a show. Then, as more people began to attend, the social aspect of it all started to present itself.

“Through feedback from people,” said Bartell, “we try to refine it, and give people what they want.”

“We’ve really taken consideration to what people are saying, too,” Wood added. “We start to mold this thing after what people tell us.”

The crowd seems to grow each month since the Café started.

“People walk around,” said Bartell, “and they really don’t want to leave when it’s over. They just want to share and circulate with everyone. We make it a point to meet everyone who comes out.”

A recently-established e-mail list has been one of the latest updates for Bartell and Wood, allowing them to reach out even more to their guests with a newsletter, thanking them for support and informing them of upcoming events.

“It took a while to get some people to actually come,” said Wood, “but once they did, you could really see it start to take off.” With each passing month, she added, she’s seen a new draw, with more ministries and followers becoming involved. “Now,” she said, “Acoustic Café holds its own.”

The evening brings a varying assortment of people together. “You have all these churches all over the place,” said Wood, “but once a month, all of these people, with their own beliefs, come together, since it’s nondenominational.”

With the diversity of followers, Acoustic Café has brought in very sundry crowds, including groups from Christian Motorcyclists Association and Christian Surfers of Delaware and Maryland.

“Roy Harrell has made a strong commitment to Acoustic Café and helping people get involved,” said Bartell, referring to the man who organized the Christian Surfers.

But the guests aren’t the only ones providing positive feedback and growing numbers. The performers are often requesting to return to play again.

“There’s so much talent in the area, and until we started this, we may have never known,” said Bartell. “It’s great exposure for them and everyone enjoys it.” Groups with names like Amazing Grace and Mountain Mud have played at the event, and The Branches will be headlining on April 27.

“One of our visions,” said Bartell, “is to attract a really well-known band. We’ve got that in our sights.”

Originally, he and Wood had contributed to the musical acts. Now, though, it seems that word is spreading, and more and more performers are wanting in on the action.

“Bands tell us each month that they had a great time and want to come back for the next one,” said Wood. “When you’re acknowledged by other people and they love what you’re doing, it gives you fire to keep going.”

But like most things, Acoustic Café came with its price, literally. “It’s a challenge, financially,” said Wood. “We’ve spent a lot of money, but we’re not looking to make it all back. The blessing comes with knowing that other people are being touched.”

Acoustic Café is held every fourth Friday at 7 p.m. at Peninsula Community Church, located on Route 54 in Selbyville, two miles west of Route 113. The next one will be held April 27. For more information, call (302) 841-3332 or (302) 537-6018.