Pub Theology (minus the pub, minus the guru)

In the past few days I have researched the "pub theology" or "theology on tap" events that churches of various backgrounds – but largely Roman Catholic, from what I can tell – have done in recent years.  From what I can tell – and from what Beth commented on my previous post – the pub theology events seem to be fairly straight forward:

  • Get a pub/bar with a semi-private space conducive to group conversation but open to newcomers
  • Get a good speaker to present a topic/issue
  • Drink beer and talk about it

What has surprised me is just how simple and straightforward this is.  This is essentially a Sunday morning adult forum that takes place in the evening at a bar.  Otherwise, the format – an expert sharing thoughts about a particular faith topic, followed by questions – is not very innovative.  But moving this discussion to a new location at a new time is more than a gimmick.  The move makes this discussion of faith and theology more open to a crowd of folks who might not flock to church on Sunday mornings – a new energy and dynamism is created, new questions are asked, and new community (hopefully!) is formed.  In this way it is an evangelism move, but also a move toward new and fresh reflection on life and faith.

Yet these events are largely serial in nature – 4 or 6 weeks in a row, and then nothing for several months.  They are expert-driven, and despite the discussion that ensues, it is largely dependent upon a guru to provide the fodder.  I'm not sure how much "community" is formed in this kind of setting, though perhaps that is not the goal.

Here at St John's by the Gas Station, we are initiating a "Summer Faith Fellowship" meeting Wednesday evenings in people's homes.  It is meant to be a time of loosely structured faith discussion and activity, a place for folks who might be intimidated by traditional Bible study to come, share and learn about faith.  Here's the description we've published in the newsletter and bulletin:

Come and share conversation about the stuff of life and wonder what God has to do with any of it.  From family and finances, to politics and current events, to American Idol and the internet, we'll discuss what's happening in our lives and what God is going about it.  We do not promise to have all the answers to our questions, but we will guarantee good questions  and honest conversation about life and faith. 

Come and share life.  Come and share faith.

Unlike many of the "pub theology" gatherings I saw profiled, our gatherings are not dependent upon a guru or single long-format presentation.  Rather, structured conversation and brief times for presentation and group activities will mark our time together.  We will also enjoy the hospitality of one of our members, who will offer snacks and drinks.

I'm still working on the format and content for our first gathering (Wednesday evening), but the general outline looks to be something like this:

  • Gather for informal conversation and introductions (why are you here?)
  • Discuss Hot Topic of the Day with various questions, reflections and (perhaps) activities (first topic likely to be gas prices).  If the group is large, we will break into smaller discussion groups.  As we get talking, the topic likely splits into several spin-off topics and areas of discussion.
  • Part-way through the discussion, ask the God question – what does God have to do with any of this?  Introduce passages from the Bible or Christian tradition (quotes from saints, liturgy, etc.) that might have bearing on the issue, generating more conversation and reflection.
  • Wrap up with Q&A, prayer, and suggestions for next week's topic.

I'm doing lots of prep work for our first gathering – from strategies for facilitating good conversation (it is too easy to kill a conversation) to content for discussion starters to passages from the Christian tradition that have something to say about the topic.

If you have any thoughts or ideas, please share in the comments below, or by posting something on your blog and sharing the link here!

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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3 Responses to Pub Theology (minus the pub, minus the guru)

  1. Beth says:

    And just to keep the comments flowing…
    What you’re starting is similar to what my young adult group is/does. We meet weekly (Thursdays this summer) at either someone’s home (dinner and/or snacks) or at a local place – Panera is good for this. We’re together for typically 60-90 minutes, and have Christian discussion, though apparently less organized than what you’re planning. We’ve rotated through some discussion-guiding books, actual Bible study, and discussing news stories and how being a Christian affects the story/our views/what we can do about it. Then we close in prayer. We’ve been doing this about 3 years now, and it’s great. I wish you luck with yours! And if you want to share your meeting prep stuff… we’re always looking for more “starter material”! We get together from a handful of different churches, and therefore rarely have any rostered folks to help with the guiding process – and we could use some!
    Some friends at Peace Lutheran in Arlington are doing a “Luther, Beer and Pretzels” type thing (they started with wine and cheese, but thought a change in menu was more fun), about once a month – you could check that out, too.
    Ah, thank goodness for slow days and GoogleReader!

  2. nothead says:

    Check out http://www.faithontap.net
    The sessions are led by an individual but they guys who have organized the events do a very good job at keeping the entire group involved and they focus solely on music, sometimes covering a band over a few month s and some times just in one night. One thing they do very well is eliminate excuses not to come, it is a very relaxed setting and they take care of childcare.

  3. nothead says:

    Btw, please excuse my apparent inability to form coherent, grammatically correct sentences. Who knew that you should not post and talk on a conference call at the same time.

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