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Things to Notice When Church Folk Meet in a Bar

by Chris Lane

For the past half year, we’ve been encouraging folks from our church to bring their friends to the bar down the street. It’s not for the purpose of drinking, although we leaders enjoy the brown ale on tap. The purpose is to have meaningful conversations where a huge portion of society goes to talk about important matters in one’s life.

Our hour-long gathering happens 2x-monthly & we call it Lifetree Cafe. Many faith groups around the country, like us, are feeling called to break out of our walls to be with people where they are. As I look around the packed bar on Monday nights, I wonder if the patrons know God loves them, is present to them, even has a claim on their lives. I get hints that many have given up on the church & no longer attend. Writer Thom Schultz, one of the writing team for the Lifetree programs we use, and founder of Group Publishing, was moved to create gatherings in bars & public spaces precisely because he saw it unlikely that his neighbors would come to a church looking for meaning or friends or support.

He interviewed strangers in a city park on a Sunday morning to ask why they weren’t in church. Their reasons centered around four recurring themes:

“Church people judge me.” A young woman told that as a child she regularly attended church and Sunday school. But she’s given up on the church as an adult. “They make me feel like an outcast,” she said. “How? Why?” Thom asked. “Well, I’m a smoker,” she said.

“I don’t want to be lectured.” More people today want to participate in the discussion. One man said he’s talked with over a thousand other men who’ve given up on church. He said, “Guys don’t want to sit in a room and idly listen to some preacher do all the talking. They want to ask questions. They want to share their thoughts too.”

“They’re a bunch of hypocrites.” We know church leaders are weary of this “excuse.” But people aren’t merely referring to incongruous behavior. What bothers them is the sense that church spokespeople act like they have all the answers. That they’ve arrived. That they’re only interested in telling others what to do— “teaching,” to use the church vernacular.

“I don’t want religion. I want God.” Most people don’t experience God at church. They’re not looking for the “deep” theological trivia that seems to interest some preachers. They crave something very simple. They’re dying to be reassured that God is real, that he is more than a historical figure, that he is present today, and that he is active in the lives of people around them.  (you can see Thom Schultz’ full article here.)

These are exciting days to be the Church. Many may not enter our doors, but many are willing to discuss their search for meaning & community. So, consider this an invitation if you’re ever in the neighborhood, to come check out our conversation, in the side room of noisy Parlor Bar, the 2nd and 4th Mondays at 6pm.

The topics are diverse, but always spirited. It’s fine to engage in conversation or just sit and listen. I also ask you to consider the people you care about who maybe find the local bar more welcoming than the local church. You might ask, in the best non-judgmental voice you got, why it is church life is not on their radar these days. In fact, I’d love to have you respond to this blog about what you hear, or even what gives you hope for the church bridging to the community. In the meantime, I hope to see you at the bar.

Let’s keep the conversation going!


8 thoughts on “Things to Notice When Church Folk Meet in a Bar

  1. While I agree that we need to reach this broken world I worry that this is not just being “of”the world but also “in”the world. As a woman with a family history of drug and alcohol addiction I am weary of condoning the use of alcohol. I think of the Christian with whom can not drink just one dark ale on tap. The Christian who’ve sworn off alcohol spiraling into a life of alcohol abuse, never seeing it coming. What’s next? Encouraging men to go to strip clubs to reach men addicted to porn?

  2. John Burgess

    Being on the road to drunkenness is such a wonderful example and encouragement for those who are already there. Good one!

  3. The Grandmother

    “Church people judge me” – A family with two autistic children has given up on church because the church has no room for bright, sweet, autistic children who behave differently. They may not sit still. They may comment during the sermon (after all, someone is talking to them – they are responding), they may become overstimulated by the loud organ and cry. or scream. Many churches children’s directors don’t want them in Sunday school because they “aren’t equipped to handle special needs children” and the neurotypical children “don’t like” the autistic children or are “afraid of them” – there are so many behaviors that people are judging overtly and covertly. After four years of regular church attendance, the family has given up. Sometimes the church people truly are overly judgmental.

  4. Where exactly do we draw the line, separating the church from the world, as God has called us to do. When do we as Christians finally stand out, rather than blend in? I am particularly disturbed by the leadership of this church and Group’s condoning of a particular line which reads, ” It’s not for the purpose of drinking, although we leaders enjoy the brown ale on tap.” Do Christian leaders have any convictions anymore? This is why the church is falling apart because leaders can’t reach the lost without settling. I am quite upset by Group for condoning this.

  5. I have to agree that the church has come across as being very judgmental people. When we say that we hate the sin but love the sinner, they don’t feel that is what we are saying. If you hate their lifestyle, then you apparently hate them as well. That approach is not working. I have raised 5 children in church with 2 loving parents in the household, and everyone of them have walked away from the church. My youngest son tells me that organized religion has done more harm in this world than it is ever helped and he would be better off without them. I can do one of two things when I hear this. I can tell him how wrong he is or I can listen and try through love show him that he could be wrong. It seems to me that Christians have gone about this all wrong. How many people did Jesus turn away because they were sinners? Who are we anyway to call people sinners? Aren’t we all sinners? We pick and choose which sins we consider to be the really bad ones. God looks at sin as sin and we must all repent of those sins and ask forgiveness everyday. Jesus calls us to love, not judge. Yes, we are to even love our enemies. Are we doing that? If we were, things might be a lot different.

  6. Question! How do you navigate the video portion of Lifetree in a bar? Is there a side room (I’m thinking being able to hear the video)? Been exploring this option for my own congregation and would love your insight!

    • Adam Bohlmeyer

      That’s a great question Ruth. We’ve seen a few different approaches from Lifetree Cafe’s that meet in bars. Typically, there is an agreement with the establishment that allows Lifetree’s to use a particular section of the bar (whether it’s a side room, or back section) that provides some quiet. In most cases it provides a win for the establishment and the Lifetree Cafe. It’s mutually beneficial.

  7. The bar does offer us a side room which has a large blank wall we project on to. It’s not perfect (what is?), what with servers weaving thru our group to get to the kitchen (yet they are curious to see what we’re doing), and sounds of partying coming across the rafters flowing into our moment of quiet (always prompting us to be aware of others as we pray). It’s kind of a joyful chaos where all are welcome – I suppose like Jesus might want it.

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