A 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.
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.”