Worship and Place: Church Meeting in a Bar

Worship and Place: Church Meeting in a Bar May 3, 2012

Earlier this week I attended what a church calls their “Theology on Tap” series. In it, they host a speaker at a local tavern, invited friends and family, and basically spent 2 hours drinking, eating, and talking Christianity. It was quite enjoyable at many levels, but the thing I’ve thought most about was the effect of place on Christian gatherings.

You see, this was an Episcopal church, and while I have not been to their Sunday services, I’ve been to enough Episcopal services to appreciate how solemn and generally not-rowdy they are. In contrast, the other night was a bit rowdy and lots of casual fun.

Why the difference? I assume mainly the location (though the beer might have helped). Taking over the back room of a tavern prompts a very different social atmosphere than if the same meeting had been held in the parish hall.

I know that there are people who put a lot of thought into the structure of church spaces, and this makes me glad that they do. It seems that getting the space right is very important and worth spending some money on.

Even in my teaching I have seen the effects of space. In the past 8 years or so I’ve had two classes fall flat, and both met in old fashioned rooms on campus–seating all on one level and rectangles with the longest dimension going from front-to-back (which, I believe, is the layout of most churches). In fact, the second time it happened, I realized what was going on, and I switched classrooms after three weeks to one with arena-style seating, and within minutes the whole tone of the class changed.

So, perhaps all some churches need is a change in space and, perhaps, beer on tap.

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  • John Riley

    Again, something Buckhead Church (and all North Point Ministries churches) does perfectly.

  • Oooh, oooh, ooh! Pick me Mr. Kotter.
    Our church also does a Theology on Tap “small group/outreach,” though we just drink and don’t eat. It is one of the reasons why our congregation is no longer in our denomination.

    And what you say about classrooms is spot on. I had a grad methods class where we had a long seminar table and I couldn’t see any of the students at the far end. It led to a horrible class with a lack of participation. On the other hand, when I have a U-shaped seating arrangement, it works great. I don’t do “sharing circles” because as soon as you make the U an O, people start drumming and chanting. Not good.

    And, oh, by the way, Prof. Wright. Did you happen to see that you made the Top 15 list?!

  • I should also note that for awhile our small town actually had a congregation that met on Sunday morning in a bar and was called “Church in a Bar.” It was actually a brilliant use of space, although early East Coast football games complicated the meeting time a bit in the fall. I had wanted to interview the pastor of that church, but it seemed to fall apart before I could ever arrange it. My understanding was that it was a mission outreach of another small church in town and that the Church in a Bar folks just ended up attracting their regular congregants making the regular service in the church look sparsely attended.