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!