A sober look at the beer church trend

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.

Comments (4)

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Great conclusion, Jerod. If it’s a gimmick, dump it. If it’s true fellowship, drink it up!

( timfall.wordpress.com )

We used to get together with some friends (Christian, atheist and agnostic) for a “Prayers and Pints” night. This was a time to discuss theology and doctrine, ask questions and share laughs.
I think that good drink and fellowship can facilitate conversation in a way that is often lacking at a traditional bible study. That said, it would never replace Sunday worship in my life. The two serve different purposes.

I think if you left a tape recorder going somewhere in my mainline Protestant church you could probably overhear minutes like this. I’ve certainly heard them in (off the top of my head) Methodist, Southern Baptist, PCA Presbyterian, and Catholic churches, and in a Modern Orthodox synagogue. Maybe not the bit about meeting the dog again, but if someone said that I can imagine people being too polite to correct her. Certainly the other bits sound familiar.

I’ve never been to one of those beer churches, but I have been to small group Bible studies where alcohol was served, and it actually contributed to our church experience. Mostly; sometimes it became a bit too casual. And I think you’re spot-on in your final paragraph. But I’d like to emphasize that this test can also apply to the traditional format of 11 AM Sunday morning services. I’m not sure these problems are all that unique to the new format, though they may seem more obvious just because the format is new and foreign to us.

I went to a new church plant in Melbourne that was holding services on the upper floor of a pub in a trendy new inner-city suburb. The lower floor carried on business as usual while the service went on in the contemporary Anglican style. They didn’t serve beer from the bar during the service, but there were plenty of free soft-drinks and glasses of chilled water available. We had contemporary Christian music played by a small band and we also had traditional communion. After the service, many of us walked up the concourse a way and shared a meal at a restaurant or a bar, and this was great fellowship. But the property was owned by an atheist who objected to a church in a pub, so they were forced to find a new venue. While they were at the pub, the congregation grew from about a dozen to about 120. Now they have gone to a cinema uptown in the CBD, which is being filled to absolute capacity at three different Sunday services. This new Parish was underwritten by the Archdiocese of Melbourne, as a plant from nearby parishes in West Melbourne and Carlton, both of which had very high-church traditions. But they also had a vision that to reach the largely un-churched populations of this newly developed area, they needed to go where the people were to be found. Where else but a pub?

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