I’m a Christian and I like beer. Judge me if you must. But it helps explain why I was naturally drawn to a recent NPR story about churches bringing in new members through booze.
The story starts in a pub where regular patrons looking for trivia night stumble across a full-blown church service, communion and all. It’s the ultimate “go where the people are” gesture in reaching out to folks who may not ever think about coming to a traditional church building.
The pastor, Philip Heinz, seems sincere in what he’s doing. “I'm not interested, frankly, in making more church members,” he says. “I'm interested in having people have significant relationships around Jesus.”
When churches act with this sort of sincerity, I get excited. There’s a passion for being in the community and meeting with people. That feels like how the church should be, especially compared to the country club, member’s only image that plagues many churches.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of churches mixing theology and beer. I know several who have pub nights where people, Christians and non-believers alike, sit around a table to discuss theology. In fact, one of the pub churches in the NPR story has been effective enough in reaching people that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has endorsed it and plans on launching more.
Here’s where the problem kicks in for me. The story follows another church that has a monthly, two-drink maximum, hymns-and-beer night where the theology seems more watered down. Listening to the audio version of the story, you can hear singers giggling through “Be Thou My Vision” and another crying church member dedicating a song to his dead dog, which he now believes is in heaven, contrary to what his childhood church taught him. This whole set-up feels much more like a gimmick.
To be fair, I know nothing about these two different churches other than what I heard. Their hearts could be in the right or wrong place. But here’s what I do know for sure - a cool church with beer will never trump an authentic relationship based on helping a person find hope in their life.
If beer fosters that relationship, drink up. God can work anywhere. But if alcohol is just another attempt to try and be a church that you’re really not, keep the bottles on the shelf.