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Barbecue Preacher

Restaurant on church property finances ministry outreach.

Terrance D. Levi has a billion-dollar idea.

“Before I leave this planet, I want to give $1 billion to missions,” says the 50-year-old Levi, who pastors The Fellowship Cleveland in Texas. He believes selling barbecue will help him reach that goal.

Evangelism and missions have long been important to Levi. As a new convert, he started an urban outreach ministry, Street Life Worldwide Entertainment Group, through which over 60,000 people made professions of faith in Jesus Christ.

However, before giving his life to Christ, Levi had been involved in organized crime. In the early to mid-1990s, Levi worked as a music producer in Houston’s growing rap scene. Although passionate about creating records, he and his crew did not have the funds to make music at the level that fit their ambitions.

“Organized crime became a means to pay for making records,” says Levi.

Levi’s life of crime put a serious strain on his marriage, and he and his wife, Lorie, separated. Soon after, Levi started to miss his wife and their four children, so he accepted Lorie’s terms for coming back home: get out of organized crime and come to church.

“I had no intention of becoming a Christian,” says Levi. “I just wanted to be back home with my wife and kids.” He started going to church and felt drawn to God. “I found the missing piece,” he says. In 1995, Levi decided to follow Jesus and he eventually received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Receiving the Baptism empowered Levi’s outreach ministry efforts. His background as a hip-hop producer and promoter gave him the resources and vision to create events that attracted large crowds. Levi’s bent in evangelism led to a show, Street Life TV, on the Dallas-based Daystar Network that aired on a local Houston station.

Robert H. Taylor regularly watched Street Life TV on Daystar in 1998 after getting home from a night of clubbing. The show intrigued Taylor, a music promoter in Houston’s hip-hop scene. He tracked Levi down and the two men became friends. Levi invited Taylor to Friday Night Live, a weekly discipleship event that featured entertainment and Bible teaching.

“I started going to the church more and more and went to the nightclubs less and less until I decided that I enjoyed going to church more,” says Taylor, 45. Taylor eventually became Levi’s right-hand man in the ministry. They pooled their knowledge and experience, and dreamed of more events to reach youth and young adults in Houston.

“Whatever made sense for us to do to attract a crowd, we would do it,” says Taylor.

Alas, Levi and Taylor’s ambitions often outmatched their available funds. Levi and his team decided to sell barbecue pizza to help finance the outreach events. The pizzas became so popular, customers lined up to buy them long after the events finished.

Following almost 20 years in urban outreach ministry, Levi, who earlier had obtained Assemblies of God ministerial credentials, felt called to pastor. In 2014, he became senior pastor of The Fellowship Cleveland. After years of struggling to sustain outreach, Levi sought a feasible way to finance the church’s evangelistic endeavors. Through prayer, he realized the church’s family life center could be transformed into a restaurant. Upon receiving donations through a social media campaign, loans, and a few generous donors, The Fellowship Cleveland made the necessary improvements to open a restaurant on the church property.

In 2018, Levi — with the blessing of the congregation — established Fat Floyd’s Smokehouse & Grill.

“Pastor Levi brought the restaurant idea to the congregation to agree on,” says church board member Lenny R. Gonzalez, 37. “The main objective of the restaurant is to provide funds for ministry.”

Fat Floyd’s became an instant hit in Cleveland, a town of 8,200 residents just north of Houston. It surged to the highest rated local barbecue restaurant on Yelp and in March, the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce named Fat Floyd’s Business of the Month.

Evangelism is at the heart of Fat Floyd’s mission. However, Levi and The Fellowship take a unique approach to blending food service and ministry.

“We don’t want to bring people into the restaurant so we can preach to them,” says Levi. “The restaurant exists to sell barbecue, so we can fund outreach through the church and give to missions.” Fat Floyd’s signature dish is barbecue pizza, a nod to Levi’s early days of doing urban outreach in Houston.

“Pastor Levi taught us that it’s not just in these four walls that we share the gospel,” says Gonzalez.

Ally Henny

Chicago-based Ally Henny is a writer, speaker, minister, and vice president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, an organization committed to encouraging, engaging, and empowering Black Christians. She has her Master of Divinity from Fuller Seminary with an emphasis in race, cultural identity, and reconciliation,