Leah Stanfield, 28, walks to a microphone across the room and reads the evening’s gospel message.
She’s been attending services in this Fort Worth, Tex., location for a year, and occasionally leads worship. “I find the love, I find the support, I find the non-judgmental eyes when I come here,” she told NPR.
“And I find friends that love God, love craft beer.”
That’s right. Every Sunday evening, 30 to 40 gather with her at Zio Carlo brewpub to order pizza and pints of beer, fellowship, and share communion.
Pastor Philip Heinze and his Calvary Lutheran Church told NPR that they sponsor Church-in-a-Pub, whose formal name is the Greek word Kyrie.
And this group isn’t alone. It appears a smattering of mainline churches, concerned with dwindling attendance and looking to break away from tradition, are using beer as a selling point.
If some patrons at Zio Carlo become confused, bartender Les Bennett clears it up for them.
“I tell ‘em, it’s a church service,” Bennett told NPR, “and they’re, like, ‘In a pub?’ And I’m, like, ‘Yeah.’ Some of ‘em stick around for trivia, some of ‘em take off, some of ‘em will hang out and have another pint or two.”
Heinze put it bluntly: “I’m not interested, frankly, in making more church members. I’m interested in having people have significant relationships around Jesus. And if it turns out to be craft beer, fine.”
In fact, the regional council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America named Church-in-a-pub a “Synodically Authorized Worshiping Community” in October, NPR said, adding that the idea is set to expand to other taverns in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2014.
“I think the institutional church now is getting onboard,” said Heinze, “because there’s a lot of anxiety frankly about the church’s decline and they’re trying to think outside of that institutional box.”
That’s the sentiment among those who gather one night a month at the old First Christian Church in downtown Portland, Ore., where they open the parish hall for Beer & Hymns.
The Christian Church Disciples of Christ — a small mainline Protestant denomination — has experienced a steep drop in membership in recent decades. Beer & Hymns is one attempt to attract new people.
Amy Piatt, senior pastor at First Christian Church Portland, is a sixth-generation Disciple of Christ congregant and the originator of Beer & Hymns.
“It’s probably, in the very near future, not going to be at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning wearing your best shoes and tie or dress,” she told NPR. “It’s going to be something different. I mean, what that is, we are still finding out, we’re still learning together. But it’s still holy, God is still there, and that’s what’s most important.”
Here’s a video introduction to the Beer & Hymns service via YouTube: