In the early 1990s, three young guys with a passion for kids sat around a table in a meeting room at the Greenville Recreation Center. As Marty Johnson explained to Bob Good and Skip Seibel how God had been working in his life and how he was being called to do something with youth ministry and a coffeehouse, a process was set in motion that was to shape Greenville for the next 25 years: this meeting was the beginning of what was to become Downtown Ministries.
DTM has been an umbrella for several smaller ministries over the years, all of which focus on building relationships to spread the light of the gospel. The first of these ministries was the Mustard Seed Jam House, a coffeehouse geared toward high school and college students housed in the basement of The Bible Gift Shoppe on Main Street.
The Mustard Seed was a good place for Greenville’s kids to hang out; the gospel was present there, along with caring adults, tasty refreshments, and sometimes even live music. The atmosphere impacted Greenville’s Christian kids, and Marty also described it as a place where other local outsiders "found acceptance and a place of their own.” Some of those students were then led to Christ.
Growth and Expansion
DTM spent ten years operating the Mustard Seed Jam House before expanding into a larger building. After a period of construction, the ministry’s headquarters moved up Main Street to its current location, Fresh Grounds Coffeehouse, which opened in 2010. Over the last 25 years, DTM has seen many changes; like the parable of the mustard seed, it started small and has grown in unexpected ways, all by the work of the Lord.
DTM began youth-focused and in a small basement; now they're a multigenerational and multifaceted ministry in a large, recognizable space downtown. Besides Fresh Grounds, DTM operates several other ministries under their umbrella, including Sans Moco Art Gallery, Keystone Bibles, His Work His Way, the DTM Endowment fund, and Neighbor to Neighbor. The leadership has changed somewhat as well: a new job took Skip to West Virginia in 2002, and Bob recently retired to South Carolina, leaving Marty and his wife Martha as DTM’s Director and Assistant Director.
Consistent Vision: Changing Lives
While many things have changed, DTM’s mission has not. All of its ministries focus on community and relational evangelism. According to Bob, "In everything that Downtown Ministries does…the vision is still that we lead people to Christ and then follow them to the local church." The desire is to then see those new Christians become part of DTM’s volunteer team, perpetuating the cycle.
Staff and local church volunteers have also been changed for the better through their work with DTM, from the shy girl behind the counter who blossoms through the love of those she works with, to the founders themselves who have grown from seeing God’s work firsthand. Bob said, "There are literally dozens and dozens if not hundreds of stories that can be told about the ways that [God has] worked in individual lives."
God’s Plan, God’s Provision
When asked how he has been impacted by his work with DTM over the years, Marty said, "I have seen a very real God working. For me, it's been such a blessing to know that this God who has made the universe cares enough about Greenville to provide on a daily, weekly basis the needs that we have. I'm just blown away, that this is here, and that we're still firmly held in his hands."
Marty described how God provides for DTM through his people. He said, “Even to this day, we live day to day, and the money that we generate from the counter probably takes care of about a third [of our monthly expenses]; the rest, we're reliant upon the community, individuals, businesses, and churches, to keep the wheels going…It just happens month to month. Out of nowhere, a check will show up.”
Marty described how when he attempted to direct things himself, doors of opportunity would shut, so he has learned to be a follower in his leadership of DTM. "I think [God] really wants us to follow, and when we submit to that, he really wants to lead…I want people to know that [DTM] is a testament not of who we are but who God is."
Bob said, “We wanna be there for as long as God is willing and ready to keep things happening…I think there's some exciting things that can happen; I think all of Greenville could be transformed."
Marty adds, “We are open, and we are continually looking for where it is and what it is that he wants us to do…[If] we just continue doing what we're doing, then praise God for that. But if he has [more] projects for us to do, that’s where we're going."