Bibles and Booze: Congregations Across America Attempting to Attract New Members With Beer

beer 2 pdA new report released by NPR outlines that a number of congregations across America are now using beer as a way to attract new members.

The effort is an experiment in finding methods that will appeal to those who otherwise would not set foot in a church. Some beer-based gatherings are held right in the the church building, and others are hosted at the local pub.

One of the locations highlighted in the report is Fort Worth, Texas, where Church-in-a-pub, sponsored by “Pastor” Phil Heinze of Calvary Lutheran Church, is held each week at the local bar.

“I find the love, I find the support, I find the non-judgmental eyes when I come here,” attendee Leah Stanfield told the publication. “And I find friends that love God [and] love craft beer.”

Approximately 30-40 people meet for the weekly gathering, which includes Bible readings, fellowship and communion–all over pizza and beer at Zio Carlo pub.

The Regional Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently recognized Church-in-a-pub as a synodically authorized worshiping community. In 2014, another area “pastor” plans to expand the concept throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

While Calvary Lutheran Church holds their gathering in a bar, the First Christian Church of Portland, Oregon hosts a monthly “beer and hymns” night at the church building, where congregants get together to sing hymns, talk and drink beer.

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NPR tells the story of one transgender attendee who got up to speak at a recent event, announcing that he was raised in a church that told him that animals don’t have souls. However, because his dog had recently died, he wanted to sing a song that night in church in honor of his dog.

“I want to sing this song in defiance of that because Gunner was my friend,” he stated to those gathered as they sipped beer. “And he has emotions and a personality, and I had a relationship with him that’s as real as any relationship I had with any human being.”

The Wall Street Journal covered a similar story earlier this year in highlighting the new trend, introducing its readers to a Saturday night gathering held by Pastor Matt Bistayi, who started Valley Church in Allendale, Michigan.

“My name is Darin,” the music director announced to those present. “And I like me a 30-pack of Busch Light!”

The group, which holds to the motto, “What Would Jesus Brew?” then began to applaud.

For some congregations, instead of beer, cigars are offered to potential members. As previously reported, Eric Van Scyoc of St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Rocky River, Ohio calls his gathering the “Smokin’ Bible Study,” where men assemble in the back room of Cigar Cigars and smoke stogies as they study the word of God. He says that he has been leading the studies at the location for approximately three years.

“It’s a chance to bring the Bible out from the walls of the church,” Van Scyoc told The Plain Dealer.

He explained that when he was approached by the owner of Cigar Cigars to lead the study, he was reluctant at first, but since no one in the church had a problem with the idea, he accepted.

“Some women have said to us, ‘I’m going to come by because it shouldn’t be just for men,’” Van Scyoc explained. “They’re certainly welcome, but so far, none of them have come by.”

However, some pastors have expressed great concern and caution over increasing attempts to reinvent church—using carnal methods to attract men.

“Rather than relating with people by becoming like people, the Church is to present the glory of God,” Scott Brown of the Center for Family Integrated Churches told Christian News Network. “When people come into the church, they should see a completely new kingdom, a completely new community. They should see how different God is than they are and how much more wonderful He is, and how His ways are much more beautiful than their ways.”

Pastor Eric Ludy, President of Ellerslie Mission Society, has made similar statements in expressing his concerns about the Church seeking to attract the world by appearing “cool.”

“The problem is Jesus wasn’t cool. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, Jesus didn’t do it the world’s way. He came in and offended the world,” he told reporters. “He came in and did everything the wrong way. … We actually want to indict Jesus and say, ‘You know what? If you had known as much as we know you would have done it differently.’ We want to appeal to the world’s sensibilities and somehow draw them to the Gospel. Jesus didn’t do any of that.”

“The Bible says, ‘Raise Him up and He will draw all men unto Himself,'” he continued. “The key is we lift up the Gospel. We give the straight and narrow path. We give it undiluted and people will start respecting us because we are not giving them something that will tantalize the flesh. We are giving them something that will bring life to their spirit.”


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  • Dallas

    I don’t really see how this is apostasy. I’m not sure it’s quite a shame on the true gospel, either. In fairness, Jesus drank wine. He turned water into wine as his first miracle. And the disciples believed in him. His public ministry essentially began at a wedding feast. Granted there is a lot of layers in that picture, but on the surface, it was a wedding reception, where people drink and dance and eat and laugh.

    One of the dissenting pastors in the article said, “The problem is Jesus wasn’t cool. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, Jesus didn’t do it the world’s way. He came in and offended the world.” I question whether that is the case or not. Jesus offended the religious establishment of his day. He offended them the most. The common people were offended as they realized that to follow Christ meant to leave all behind and deny themselves. But in general, Christ met the people where they were. Yes, it was his custom to preach in the synagogues and read on Sabbath, but the rest of the time he was in the streets, fields, lakes, houses with the people. The fishermen, prostitutes, divorcees, and sinners in general. We forget that Jesus was here among men like you and me. Sinful people surrounded him.

    I feel like we make this subtle differentiation between what is righteous and what is not, but we do it along lines that the Bible does not explicitly define. We say Thou shalt not smoke! Thou shalt not drink! Thou shalt not gamble! Thou shalt not dance! Thou shalt take no movie in at the theater! We make these things dogmatic rules that must be kept by every self respecting would-be Christian as a sort of proving ground for the wheat and the tares. The Bible makes no such demands or prohibitions on people. If you think it does, you should read it again. The Scriptures give us guidelines for right and wise living in the matters of liberty. And these things are matters of liberty. As such, Paul’s instructions in matters of liberty, namely of considering your brother’s conscience, apply.

    Maybe that was a digression, but I feel that calling someone an apostate because they hold a bible in one hand and a beer in the other is reckless and thoughtless. We need to remember that love is the goal of God in our hearts and lives. Love is the whole story. The love of God for us in Christ, and the love of us for each other in Christ, and the love of those outside for the sake of Christ. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

    • Mary Waterton

      Drinking wine or beer does not make you apostate. But, if it’s the reason you are coming to church, then you already have within you a spirit of rebellion … and “rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft” (1-Samuel 5:23). That is the point.

      As evidence, friend, that you are far from the Lord, you quote the following Scripture out of context (a practice that is next-of-kin to lying) and use it to justify sin:

      “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1-Cor 10:31)

      Allow me to quote Scripture from the same identical chapter that puts that verse back into context:

      “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” (1-Cor 10:21)

    • John

      The Bible plainly condemns DRUNKENNESS, but not alcohol in and of itself. Now, we can certainly question whether or not holding Bible studies in bars is the best method of reaching people with the Gospel, but I applaud anybody who goes out, even if it is to a bar (and Scripture does not condemn bars)and attempts to bring the Gospel to the common man. The idea that, just because somebody drinks alcohol they are some how “worldly” and UN-Christian is sheer nonsense.

  • Webb

    The ELCA s a totally apostate denomination. It is not a “church”.

  • Honey

    It’s interesting to me that in the great awakenings in the US and in all other major revivals that people realized the evil of drinking through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and bars closed down as bar owners found a new vocation. So why people think that serving alcohol, drinking alcohol, and accepting alcohol is somehow going to bring revival today. It’s just stupid.

  • http://www.believeroftheway.com believeroftheway

    Read your Bible very carefully and study the culture at the time of JESUS. The Bible never says anywhere that JESUS actually drank wine or any alcohol. The passages about the LORD’S Supper actually make the clear distinction about what is being drunk by identifying the beverage as the “fruit of the vine,” clearly to show that it was not to be confused in any way with alcoholic wine. One other point about JESUS’ turning water into “wine” at the wedding. First it was identified as “New Wine”, a freshly made juice of the grape beverage, which would not have had the time necessary to ferment. Secondly, 40% of all people who drink alcohol develop an addiction to alcohol. Does anyone honestly believe that JESUS would have provided 180 gallons of an alcoholic beverage if 40% of the people drinking it would get drunk? Does anyone honestly think JESUS would have instigated a drunken orgy, which is what happened in those cultures when people got drunk?

    • Gordon

      Good comment! I concur!

    • Kevin

      Those comments by believer of the way explaining away the consumption of wine, or that somehow suggest that their wine was just non alcoholic grape juice are hilarious! Alcohol of any kind is a gift from God “to gladden the heart”(Psalm 104:14&15). It is up to us not to misuse it and take it from a blessing to a curse. The same is true for sex and other things that are a great blessing if used according to God’s particular prescription. We love to try to make a checklist to follow for our holiness, so that we will have things to compare ourselves to others and say “boy I’m doing good — no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, — like those other sinners who call themselves Christians. With that being said I do not agree with making the alcohol the focus of the Bible study or gathering. Our legalistic inclinations have led us to twist scripture to make alcohol abstinence and other man-made no-no’s a condition of favor with God. It should be like I’m convinced it was in Christ’s day when it wasn’t even considered a moral issue unless there was drunkenness. This was true with the Corinthians. They were getting drunk off the wine that was served in their celebration of the Lord’s supper. They weren’t chastised for serving wine at the Lord’s supper (which obviously could make someone drunk if they drank too much), but for drinking too much and becoming drunk. I do think drunkenness is a sin, and especially for them to degrade the Lord’s supper in this way was terrible.

  • Gordon

    Don’t forget the “stumbling block” principle. Don’t cause weaker brothers and sisters to fall by what your conscience might allow. You’ll be held accountable for that! One wise man once told me,”if it takes 7 drinks to make you drunk and you’ve had one, then you’re one seventh drunk” 1 Cor. 6 informs us that no drunkard “will inherit the kingdom of God”.