Monday, November 4, 2013

Of God and Beer: How some churches are retaining worshipers

As my regular readers will know, I not only enjoy a good beer I enjoy brewing it as well. I still get strange looks from some who can't figure out how my occupation and hobby interact with one another. The simple answer is, usually not while I am working. I was, at one time, however, a member of group called God and Guinness. We would meet once a week in a pub and . . . well I think the name explains what we did there.

But there are some who are now moving to introduce beer as a regular part of their worship service and evening hymn sings. NPR ran a story recently about how a a few churches are trying to stave off decline by holding services accompanied by craft beers. Here are some excerpts from the story.

With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft beer.
Some church groups are brewing it themselves, while others are bring the Holy Mysteries to a taproom. The result is not sloshed congregants; rather, it's an exploratory approach to do church differently.
Leah Stanfield stands at a microphone across the room from the beer taps and reads this evening's gospel message. She's a 28-year-old leasing agent who's been coming to Church-in-a-Pub here in Fort Worth, Tex., for a year, and occasionally leads worship. "I find the love, I find the support, I find the non-judgmental eyes when I come here," she says. "And I find friends that love God, love craft beer."
In downtown Portland, Ore., at the stately old First Christian Church, one Saturday night a month they open the parish hall for an event called Beer and Hymns.
There must be 100 people here tonight, most of them young, the kind you rarely see in church on Sunday morning. They're swigging homemade stout from plastic cups — with a two-beer limit. They're singing traditional hymns from a projection screen like Be Thou My Vision. And they're having way too much fun.
Like the crowd at Church-in-a-pub, a lot of folks at Beer & Hymns appear to be refugees from traditional churches.

As much as I love both beer and theology, I do wonder to what end this sort of worship experience will lead. I am not sure if the ultimate reason they are gathering is so that they can focus together on the worship of God and the good news of the gospel or so that they can down a few beers. While meeting people who "love God and craft beer" does appeal to me, I do think, however, the church is about more than finding people who have things in common with us. Certainly that will be the case in many or our worship experiences, but I am not sure that should be what attracts us to one another. Moreover, while I am certainly not one to insist that all worship of God most take place in a church, I do wonder if moving the church into the bar will help attendees focus more on God or their beer.  

Proponents of this move call it a transitional experiment. They are waiting to see how this new church model will develop. I am wondering, however, to what degree do the attendees have any connection with the long history of the church. Do they have any sense of the sacred? Or has it been diluted along with the beer they drink while belting out hymns? 

Somehow I am not convinced this is a viable long term strategy. Perhaps someday I will have an opportunity to visit such a meeting. 

What are you thoughts?

Here is the story n NPR


  1. a clergy colleague saw that I had posted the NPR article on FB and expressed concerns over the impact and message for alcoholics - she didn't feel comfortable advertising that at her church. I share that concern, but I don't see it as an event for people who are already in the church as much as a way to reach out to others not in the church (I don't like the term "unchurched") - however, after hearing the NPR bit on the radio, the hymn sing sounded more like a bad drunken karaoke than anything remotely worshipful.... it will be interesting to see how this develops

    1. Jonathan, I too wondered about the wisdom of connecting alcohol and worship this way when so many who have abused alcohol come to the church for help with this and many other addictions.

    2. Do you think there's any such thing as problematic addiction to religion?

      (not being facile, incidentally)

      I read the church-in-a-pub thing as being about essentially breaking down reserved spaces. You meet where people are comfortable meeting. Whether that be a pub or coffee shop. Somewhere where the space isn't dedicated to religion. With the hope, presumably, that church is everything that you are and do. Whether it works, I don't know. The fact that spaces change people's state is important, at least to me. Entering a reserved space, I can understand might be intimidating at first, but the change of mental state and change of pace is intentional and important, I think.

      Having a beer instead of a coffee after a service is irrelevant to me, its all fine, I think. I think the addiction argument is a bit of a red herring. We don't try to exclude people of the opposite gender to avoid tempting sex-addicts, or ban biscuits to avoid harming the obese in the congregation.

  2. We have a "Holy Smoke" Bible study here in Lodi, CA that meets in a Cigar Bar. The owners are Christians and the study is well attended. We get together and discuss the Bible over a good cigar and of course drinks are available at the bar.

  3. John, I believe there is a church in town that is doing this. Someone mentioned it in our bible study a few weeks ago. I was so surprised when she told us about it, that I missed the name of the church. I can get it if you're interested.