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!