Religious Leaders Voice

In this column readers hear from area religious leaders, in their own voice and from their personal faith perspective, on social justice, how to make our community better, and other topics related to JONAH. They offer one faith perspective of JONAH’s interfaith table.

Beer Church, Rule Breaking, and Jesus

By Bryan Willkom

Community enjoying Beer Church in Eau Claire, WI.

Disaffiliation and disengagement from church may be the norm, but everyone seems thirsty for connection.

Introducing … beer church!
In May of 2022, our ministry (GetJesusFit) launched a beer church at a brewery in Eau Claire, WI. Beer church is not a worship service—it’s a low-key and judgment-free space for community and conversation. Our goal is to be a fun and approachable space to talk about faith without losing your mind or sense of humor. 

Beer church is not your typical church for a few reasons: We don’t have a pastor, we don’t play worship music, we don’t have a denomination, we only meet 1x a month and we are … breaking the rules.

Rule Breaking and Jesus
Rule breaking is a lesson in entrepreneurship and innovation, and Jesus was a rule breaker extraordinaire. 

In the Gospels, we find a table-flipping Savior who wasn’t interested in maintaining traditions or making the religious happy. Jesus’ teachings were offensive, His actions shattered boundaries, and His inclusive, unconditional love defied a religious system of corruption, hypocrisy and judgment. 

Jesus broke the rules by who He spent time with, where He went, when He healed, what He said, and who He claimed to be. Rule breaking was central to Jesus’ mission and legacy—a legacy, I believe, the Church needs to reclaim.

Jesus Belongs in Breweries
I know what you’re thinking: Jesus belongs everywhere! 

Of course, we agree, but the Church hasn’t always made space for Jesus outside of our sanctuaries and worship halls. In many ways, Christian culture has confined Jesus within our church buildings, rather than setting Him free among the people.

We need to unlearn this.

At Beer church we proudly say “Jesus Belongs in Breweries”. It’s on our t-shirts, stickers and marketing materials. We want to create a buzz about Jesus and help people reimagine who He is, where He belongs and maybe even where we’ve kept Him out.

Bruce and Mary
Soon after we launched Beer church, I met a couple named Bruce and Mary. After a few months, I noticed they hadn’t missed one of our “services”. When I asked where they went to church, without hesitation Bruce proudly announced, “Beer church!”. It made me laugh. It also made me curious. I asked if they’d be willing to share a few reasons for attending. They agreed. Here’s what they said:

Mary: “Beer church encourages questions and allows us each to travel our own journey. It doesn’t push for volunteers. The brewery atmosphere is really laid back and the leaders are very encouraging.”

Bruce: “We hadn’t found a church we wanted to attend, and Beer church sounded interesting. We continue to attend because we like the interaction without pressure to attend regularly, or follow a specific doctrine … People are genuinely happy with our coming.”

Bruce and Mary were very kind, and while they forgot to mention how messy church in a brewery can get, they represent a growing number of people who are looking for something different. 

I don’t know
Pew Research, Gallup polls and Barna studies all point to some form of church decline, disaffiliation and general disengagement. 

I’ll be the first to say, I don’t know how to fix that. 

What I do know is that we need more outside-of-the-box thinking for those who are outside the church or who don’t fit into religious boxes. We need to break a few rules like Jesus and practice radical hospitality and non-judgment (Romans 12:13, Luke 6:37). We need spiritual wellness and approachable spaces for people like Bruce and Mary.

I don’t know where Beer church will be in 5 years, but at the moment I’d like to raise a glass to untapped potential. Cheers!