For most people going to church is a time of reflection and sobering thought. On the other hand, there are quite a few American Christians that are using this time for relaxation and as such, partaking in a nice cold beer. In Fort Worth, Texas there is a group that worships at a gathering called “Church-in-a-pub” and enjoys a craft beer with their sermon. These services are held on Sunday evenings and this very clever approach is drawing a crowd. NPR recently did a broadcast and reported that thirty to forty congregants gather weekly and interest is growing in the concept, so much so that they are looking for more pubs to accommodate them. Their catch line is to “offer salvation and everlasting life with really good beer”.
There is another organization called “Theology on Tap” which was started in 1981 by a Catholic group called RENEW International. The idea was to gather young adults in a relaxing and enjoyable environment in order to get them to open up about their faith without any pressure. The concept took off and now there are meetings all over the United States, in big cities such as New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. RENEW claims that Theology-on-Tap is in keeping with the Pope’s teachings that the gospel of Christ should be “brought into the streets and to speak it from the housetops” as well as “to go where people are,” just as Jesus did.
Because so many churches all over America have congregations that are dwindling they are trying to come up with new ideas in order to attract more members. The answer might be a little out there, but gathering with others around craft beer to worship seems to be working. Some groups brew their own beer and others take the “Holy Mysteries” to a pub. An attendee will stand at the podium in a room full of beer taps and read the evening’s gospel. The congregants don’t get drunk, that’s not the idea. It’s just a new approach toward attending church.
Leah Stanfield’s a 28-year-old woman who works as a leasing agent. She’s been attending Church-in-a-Pub in Fort Worth, TX for about a year and sometimes she volunteers to lead the worship. She describes her experience as one of finding love and support among non-judgmental people. She says that her friends that love God also love craft beer, so why not combine the two.
Another sponsor of Church-in-a-Pub is Calvary Lutheran Church, headed up by Pastor Philip Heinze. He admits that some patrons of the bar get confused when they enter, expecting something totally different. When they see a religious service going on they wonder if they came into the wrong place. They expected darts and instead got the First Testament.
Les Bennett, the bartender explains that it’s a church service and of course some leave, but others do stay for the service. That’s the whole point, to draw in the curious who may just be there to nurse a beer but when they see others get in line for bread and wine, they take interest.
It’s become their Sunday evening congregation for so many of the people who attend regularly. While the leaders of the church were initially skeptical, they’re now beginning to accept the idea. Church-in-a-Pub was designated a “Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community” last month by the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s regional council. They’re planning on having a young pastor look into the idea of expanding to other bars and taverns around the Dallas-Fort Worth area next year.
According to Heinze, the institution of the church has been concerned for some time about the decline in attendance, so they’ve come onboard because they’ve got to begin thinking outside the proverbial “institutional box.”
Portland, Oregon also has a similar group, called “Beer & Hymns.” Portland is a very craft beer-centric city, so it seems to be of no surprise that they too are attempting to gain and retain members by offering a non-traditional way to worship.
A senior pastor at Christian Church Portland and attendee of Beer & Hymns, Amy Piatt, believes the way people explore their faith is changing dramatically.
“It’s probably, in the very near future, not going to be at 10 am on Sunday morning wearing your best shoes and tie or dress,” she says. “It’s going to be something different. I mean, what that is, we are still finding out, we’re still learning together. But it’s still holy, God is still there, and that’s what’s most important.”
As the famous Benjamin Franklin misquote goes, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
- RENEW International’s Theology on Tap
- Beer & Hymns on Facebook
- “To Stave Off Decline, Churches Attract New Members With Beer”