Pub Theology

A news article recently drew attention to the phenomenon of people gathering to drink beer and sing hymns. And then my pastor mentioned “Pub Theology” in his sermon on Sunday, which is apparently a popular phenomenon not just here in Indianapolis but in many other places.  This is their logo:

It sounds more like the informal gatherings at the SBL annual meeting than like most churches I’ve been to – and that isn’t a bad thing, from my perspective. But there are drawbacks. It is well known that theologizing while intoxicated has led some people to engage in dangerous exegesis.

But seriously, it certainly does seem as though it would make sense to explore not only this but other ways of rethinking the format of church. Having people sit facing one direction and be spoken to, with some responses of sitting/standing/kneeling and singing, may have made sense in times past. But now it seems to make more sense to have the actual venue reflect a focus on fellowship and discussion. And so whether beer is served or not, having the band play, people sing along or not (words still on a screen) as they see fit, discuss, eat, drink, study, and fellowship, in a venue that looks like a place where it is natural to do those things, seems like something that more congregations ought to explore.

Have any readers of this blog been to a venue where church was more like a pub, or a coffee bar, or a dining room, and if so, what was your experience like?

On this subject, see also my post “The Future of Churches.”

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  • Necrofantasia

    Well, on one hand, if I understand the Early Church – as in, when guys like Peter and Paul were still around – it pretty much *was* a bunch of folks hanging out in someone’s house and talking about Jesus and His teachings and whatnot. The Last Supper – where we get communion from – was a *supper*, and “communion” basically means “to be with.” So Christians coming together and having “Communion” was folks meeting up at someone’s house, having a meal in Christ’s name, and talking about Jesus. It almost certainly *wasn’t* folks coming to a specially-built worship building and sitting in benches and being monologued to and then they had a tiny little wafer and a shot-glass of grape juice.

    On the *other* hand, monologuing was apparently a thing, because in Acts 20, Paul does it for so long that one of the folks listening falls asleep and falls out of a window and possibly breaks his neck. And Paul also had to tell folks that the purpose of communion wasn’t to come and get free wine and get wasted.

    I imagine that the “standard church format” came about for largely practical reasons – “let’s let the expert who knows what he’s talking about talk, rather than letting that guy with ADD interrupt every 10 seconds and that one obnoxious moron clog up the discussion with his stupid inanities,” and “folks keep coming for the free food and wine, and they pig out and get drunk, so from now on everyone just gets a wafer and a shot-glass.”

    As for fellowship and discussion…well, bible studies and bible fellowships have been a thing for as long as I can remember. Perhaps those – and sites like this, where people discuss God and religion and the like! – could become the “standard” of what a “church” is like, rather than the everyone-sits-in-pews-and-sings-hymns-and-listens-to-a-sermon “church.”

    • Jon Fermin

      well take in to consideration documents from the early church. Justin the Martyr’s “First Appology” written in 155 AD was a testimony Justin gave at a court presided by the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius. when asked as to what Christians did when they gathered he offered the following testimony. while reading, take note of the continuity of early church liturgy and where it exists today.

      The First Apology (St. Justin Martyr) Chapters 65-67

      “But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.”

      “And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, [Luke 22:19] this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.”

      “And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.”

  • Bob MacDonald

    We have had for a couple of years now a ‘theology on tap’ group – meets at local pubs – once or twice a month. I don’t go often but sometimes it has been a very large group – c 25 30 people – discussing some piece of history or theology. They come from all sorts of parishes. The pub does not replace worship. Sometimes follows Compline (usually I go to bed after Compline).

    • Jon Fermin

      Agreed, this sort of thing should be a supplement to, not a replacement of communal worship.

  • latenight.editor

    I’m the pastor of a small contemplative/activist community in Vancouver, B.C. We have never in our history functioned as a traditional church, sitting in rows, while the minister/pastor/preacher leads worship and preaches a sermon. We sit in a circle. We share leadership for the worship service, which is held on Saturday evenings at 5:00 p.m. We practice lectio divina and share our responses and reflections on the Scripture of the day. We have fantastic music, lead by one of the finest musicians in the Lower Mainland. No organ, just guitar or ukelele or flute, djembes, other percussion instruments at times, too. Sometimes other musicians join us, adding an additional guitar or banjo to the mix; on a few occasions there’s been an accordion and a piano is featured once in a while. We’re flexible. -) We always have eucharist in this weekly community worship service. Our community is intentionally and overtly inclusive of all people, regardless of gender, partnership, covenant or inclination. All we care about is that loving relationships are loving and life-giving in ways determined only by those involved. Saturday worship may be attended by 12-18 people. Friends of our community come sometimes but we don’t expect anyone to make a particular commitment to be part of us. Our ages range from 19-90, with most being over 60. I am not paid to be the community’s pastor. We put our money into outreach projects of many kinds, most of which we take an active part in, and otherwise donate our time to serve our small congregation. I do write most of our liturgies but only because I have some gifts in that area. Others contribute and would be able to write the liturgy if I couldn’t. We have no particular doctrine or creed. No one needs to believe any specific thing to be part of us. We are pilgrims, seeking meaning and understanding which we find in many ways and places. One outcome of this is that our theology is identifiably liberal to left of centre. We find God within us and around us and generally look at Jesus as brother, friend, teacher and guide. Our website is

  • Bryan Berghoef

    Thanks for the reference, James! If folks are interested in finding pub conversations happening near them, I’ve compiled a list. Cheers!

    • James F. McGrath

      Thanks! This can work both as a parachurch entity to bring people from different congregations together, and as an alternative model for a congregation.

      • Bryan Berghoef

        Agreed. BTW, just launched a new resource for folks seeking to lead pub gatherings:

  • Oliver Reed

    When I was studying at University of St. Andrews in Scotland last semester, my favorite part of the week was going to a friend’s house with a bunch of people from all walks of life and multiple nationalities and having tea, eating whatever people brought, and singing hymns, pray for each other, and just hanging out. I have found it hard to find a fitting ‘spiritual’ community here in the states for several years, but it was so natural for me there. It was laid back, inclusive, and incredibly loving. We also would meet at pubs or grill out. I have a hard time building community at church sometimes. Maybe its the speed dating of the “greeting times” or just my own lack of involvement, but this really felt like a community to me.

    • Oliver Reed

      that was not meant to be a Scotland vs. America thing at all, just to be clear :)

      • James F. McGrath

        It is OK to like Scotland – I like it too, and have many fond memories of it!

        I appreciated your comparison of church fellowship times to “speed dating.” Here are 15 minutes – build community! Community building does indeed happen more naturally when…well, when it happens more naturally! And making less formal time for that as an integral part of a church’s life can be wonderful.