What beer can teach the church

The local church isn’t the only institution faced with making difficult decisions in the turbulent, 21st century. Beer companies are facing a changing landscape as well. Except it appears that out of the changing market, the beer industry has found room for growth. Perhaps the church can learn a thing or two from craft brewers.

Some, admittedly, may not be too familiar with craft breweries. They grew out of the consolidation of “big beer” companies in the mid-20th century. Some estimated that by the close of the 20th century, only five breweries would remain. As American brewing dwindled in taste and size, a grassroots homebrewing culture emerged. Homebrewing began to thrive because in order to experience the beer of other cultures, they would have to make it themselves. Thus, homebrewing was born.

Fast forward to 2012. Though overall beer sales have decreased, craft beer has experienced an increase in the first half of 2012 — a 12 percent increase, to be exact. According to the Brewer’s Association there are now 2,126 craft breweries in the U.S., more than there have been since 1890. If you’re counting, there is about one new brewery opening every day.

Some religious groups have tapped the keg of craft brewing. Some congregations hold “Theology on Tap” gatherings to discuss religious and theological issues. Homebrewed Christianity has carried the metaphor into their podcasting as they hope to “encourage those who listen to journey towards a more beautiful life with God and the world.” Beyond visiting a taproom, what more can craft beer teach us?

Many people, and especially young adults, are willing to pay more for a quality product. Most craft beers are brewed for local distribution, providing a communal connection. Opting to shy away from the typical, freezing cold, American light beer, brewers and imbibers desire something with character and distinct flavor.

In an era where churches experience lower attendance rates, perhaps we would be well served to look into “craft churches.” Craft brewers do not create the product to be the next “big beer” producer, but rather isolate and engage a community. Megachurch models still work for some, but they have become the standard flavor without any distinct flavor.

Unbeknownst to many, craft breweries also work together to help improve and promote each other’s products. How remarkable would it be if churches did the same? What if we saw that one church’s health impacted and benefited another church’s health? People today are seeking a collaborative, quality focused mentality. Even Nielsen research has found that beer drinkers prefer a more robust beer style.

What would a more “robust” church style look like? For starters, as with the craft beer industry, churches need to recognize that they are not the only “option.” Indeed, as Christian privilege wanes there are other competing opportunities for communal engagement. By focusing on the depth and flavor of the spiritual life offered, perhaps younger adults will drink deeper from the well of the local church.

Wherever one stands on the issue of drinking, one element cannot be ignored: in what may be one of the largest industries in the United States, small, craft brewers are experiencing growth, not big-name brewers. Though many who read this might look over their shoulder when they walk into the beer aisle, or stay quiet about the “fruits of the vine,” perhaps beer can teach us something. If that’s the case, bottoms up!

Zachary Bailes

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About the Author
Bailes holds a Master of Divinity from Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is the Editor of Crazy Liberals and Conservatives, a website dedicated to engaging the intersection of faith and public life.

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  • http://www.brainwads.net/drewhawkins Drew Hawkins

    Love this. I found a few parallels with social networks (niche network growth in things like Path, RunKeeper etc) that also follow this same path. Whether you’re a church, a brewery or a ________ (fill the blank), you’ll see more success if you don’t try to be everything to everyone. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.lundquist.184 Eric Lundquist

    Perhaps we can be both brewers of beer and bringers of the Word, in the great tradition of the Belgiun brothers!

  • http://twitter.com/MondayNight Jonathan Baker

    We actually launched our brewery out of a bible study. It does seem possible to combine the two. As a brewery it’s important for us to emphasize community and moderation.

    • http://www.brainwads.net/drewhawkins Drew Hawkins

      Are you part of the Monday Night crew? Love your beer!

      • http://twitter.com/MondayNight Jonathan Baker

        Drew, indeed I am! And thanks!

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.lundquist.184 Eric Lundquist

      I like that! 

  • http://www.thechurchstateguy.com/ The Church State Guy

    As a homebrewer and Christian I LOVE this post. I think one down-side to the idea of a “crafted community” is isolation. You mention how some breweries reach out to others, but I would be afraid that crafted churches would become homogeneous, lacking diversity. The Church in the U.S. needs MORE diversity specifically in Sunday morning services, not less. That would be my only concern. Overall i think the idea is really great. Let the institutions let go of the structure and let people gather as they can, not in a codified box.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1650991723 Phuc Luu

      Yes, keeping diversity is important and churches should not be glorified high schools where cliques and clubs are formed for members only. But structure is also important. Without a structure (or form) there would be no beer. Beer is made in a very structured environment in order for it to flourish. However, I’m not talking about top down structure. Structure needs to be natural, based on the physics or “nature” of the system. Natural things have a structure and beer can be the most natural of things.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=599809820 Matt Willis-Goode

    I posted this on fb when the article was shared. Thought I would add it to the original conversation.

    I would say that a “Craft Church” as opposed to a church that meets in a pub or over beers elsewhere is an interesting concept. Here’s some thoughts:

    -Perhaps the most important characteristic of a good craft brewer is their love of the beer they are brewing. I visited one brewery that had 13 beers at its tasting, and only about 2 of them were decent. When talking to the bartender I discovered that the main goal of the brewery was to become the largest brewery in their area. They did not love the beer. They love the idea of being the biggest. A “Craft Church” must first and foremost be loved by those who create it. Being the biggest or best or coolest or most interesting church will not cut it. A “Craft Church” is one that must be passionately loved by those who craft it.

    -Craft brewers love to experiment. While their are traditional beer styles that serve as a guide, craft brewers take creative liberty and experiment like crazy. A “Craft Church” must be willing to experiment like crazy. While there may be a tradition to serve as a guide, experimentation is where the fun of craft brews come from.

    -Craft brewers are not interested in mass production. Instead they focus on depth and complexity. A “Craft Church” would not seek to reach a whole lot of people with a watered down message. Instead is would invite folks into a deep and complex exploration of faith, doubt, love, community, etc…

    -Both new and old. Although there are many new craft breweries popping up all the time, there are also some with very long histories. The craft brewing movement has served to revitalize some very old breweries. A “Craft Church” could be a new church start, but it could also very well be a church with a long history that has been revitalized by the “Craft Church” movement.

    -I could go on, but I will leave it with this. Although there are many varieties of craft breweries and craft beers there are 3 ingredients that (usually) go into all beers: Grains, hops, & yeast. Perhaps Paul gave us the 3 ingredients we need for a “Craft Church”: hope, faith, & love. 88

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=599809820 Matt Willis-Goode

    I posted this on fb when the article was shared. Thought I would add it to the original conversation.

    I would say that a “Craft Church” as opposed to a church that meets in a pub or over beers elsewhere is an interesting concept. Here’s some thoughts:

    -Perhaps the most important characteristic of a good craft brewer is their love of the beer they are brewing. I visited one brewery that had 13 beers at its tasting, and only about 2 of them were decent. When talking to the bartender I discovered that the main goal of the brewery was to become the largest brewery in their area. They did not love the beer. They love the idea of being the biggest. A “Craft Church” must first and foremost be loved by those who create it. Being the biggest or best or coolest or most interesting church will not cut it. A “Craft Church” is one that must be passionately loved by those who craft it.

    -Craft brewers love to experiment. While their are traditional beer styles that serve as a guide, craft brewers take creative liberty and experiment like crazy. A “Craft Church” must be willing to experiment like crazy. While there may be a tradition to serve as a guide, experimentation is where the fun of craft brews come from.

    -Craft brewers are not interested in mass production. Instead they focus on depth and complexity. A “Craft Church” would not seek to reach a whole lot of people with a watered down message. Instead is would invite folks into a deep and complex exploration of faith, doubt, love, community, etc…

    -Both new and old. Although there are many new craft breweries popping up all the time, there are also some with very long histories. The craft brewing movement has served to revitalize some very old breweries. A “Craft Church” could be a new church start, but it could also very well be a church with a long history that has been revitalized by the “Craft Church” movement.

    -I could go on, but I will leave it with this. Although there are many varieties of craft breweries and craft beers there are 3 ingredients that (usually) go into all beers: Grains, hops, & yeast. Perhaps Paul gave us the 3 ingredients we need for a “Craft Church”: hope, faith, & love.