Pub Theology: Faith, Hope, Love and…BEER?

 “We’re not trying to do church at a bar, we’re trying to be the church at the bar”

 –Daron Earlewine, Pastor

Abbie Stancato of Rocking Gods HouseSunday morning: wake up, ready the kids, grab a snack and off to church — sound familiar? Church for some in Indianapolis, Indiana has a different meaning. Hang out with friends, listen to a dee-jay, play a game of pool and grab a beer. Yes. Really! Where most seek a house of worship each weekend, Pastor Daron Earlewine will bring the spirit of Christ to you — almost every day of the week — at a pub near you!

Many churches boast they are church for the unchurched. Pub Theology lives it. Before casting judgment upon the pastor’s merits, recall that Christ was accused of hanging out in places that the religious leaders of his day frowned upon:

The Pharisees asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:11-13, NIV).

Pub Theology began in 2001 as a coffee-house for young adults. One night while driving home, Pastor Daron Earlewine noticed local bars packed with more patrons than his coffee-house — bars packed with the same people he was trying to reach. He suddenly realized that he had been trying to recreate an environment which already existed, and the conception of Pub Theology came to fruition!

Rockin’ God’s House: Daron, offering theology from a pub environment… Has it affected your life?

Daron: Absolutely, it has transformed and turned my life upside-down. When we started Pub Theology, I was a young adult-teaching pastor at an Indianapolis, Indiana mega-church. Now, five years later, this is my full-time life’s work.

The church sent my wife and me out as domestic missionaries. Although controversial, they believe in the mission and have taken the risk with me.

Over the years my wife and I have raised money as missionaries. Additionally, we have a small group of people who support and believe in Pub Theology. Lastly, we have one more year from a three-year agreement with a church who offers financial support.

Rockin’ God’s House: How many clubs house and sponsor Pub Theology?

Daron: We are currently at five locations. We also offer Tail Gate Theology, so we are usually in a few more during football season.

Rockin’ God’s House: What hours do you offer Pub Theology?

Daron: A Wednesday or Thursday event runs from about 8:00 PM To 11:00 PM. A Friday and Saturday night event goes from about 9:00 PM to midnight.

Rockin’ God’s House: Do you have regulars who attend?

Daron: Each bar has its regulars. We have a good following at each location. We have regulars who love the environment and like to hangout. They bring friends and family into an environment which makes them comfortable.

Rockin’ God’s House: For the person walking through the door that has no idea they are about to enter a Pub Theology event, is there a shock factor?

Daron: [laughing] The name alone is a shock factor. We tend to get a more cautious, unexpected reaction. However, most often after the event begins, and they experience the night, their opinion changes. In the years we’ve been doing this, I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve had a negative reaction at the end of an event. I think that’s because we do our best to respect the environment. We know that first and foremost Pub Theology is a Christian ministry!

Metaphorically speaking, we are attending an away game. We’re on the turf of a bar. Our tag phrase is “Indianapolis’s Best Party with a Purpose.” We want people to walk away saying, “We had a blast at Pub Theology! That was the most fun I’ve had at my favorite bar in a long time.”

We offer raffles, giveaways, games, live music or a dee-jay. We give away items such as an autographed Indianapolis Colts footballs, bottles of wine, Indiana Pacer’s basketball tickets, gifts cards, and more. We want them to leave an event with so much more than they came with, whether it’s from a giveaway, sense of love, faith, or hope in God.

Perhaps the greatest impact of Pub Theology is its effect on the staff. Many of them start off thinking, “Oh no, is this some stupid church group.” They’re there for every event and often become our best endorsements.  At the end of a recent event, a bouncer wanted me to know he was taking off work for the next event so he could attend and enjoy the night. He said he was unbelievably skeptical when he first heard of Pub Theology.

Jesus is very attractive to people, as are the ideas of compassion, generosity, servanthood, hope, and encouragement. We are hardwired as humans to respond and become inspired by the heart of God. Pub Theology can be a way to extricate those realities outside of people’s perceptions and past experiences of church. I’m consistently amazed about how open people are to the Gospel. I think often many people’s perception of the Gospel was just religion, or just following rules, or going to church. Extricate people from that, and you get a positive reaction.

Rockin’ God’s House: What is your format for a Pub Theology service?

Daron: The night starts with the band or dee-jay. We offer a welcome and explain the night: what we’re going to do, the charities, and the kind of games and giveaways we’ll be having. We go back to the band or dee-jay. Then we’ll offer some type of game like a pie eating contest called, “Pie For Pacer’s Tickets.” More live music and giveaways, then I’ll interview and briefly discuss the charity of the night. We offer a video if the charity has one, and we explain how people can get involved. We’ll take up an offering for the charity where 100% of the proceeds go to the charity of the night. We’ve given over $40,000.00 to charities over the last several years.  After more music, I get up and offer my Pub Theology thought for the night — usually about a three to five-minute sermon — then back to more music and giveaways.

Throughout the night we offer a text number for questions or prayer requests. At the end of the night we do our best to answer them.

We end with prayer, hang out and play music for the rest of the night.

Rockin’ God’s House: What can churches learn from Pub Theology?

Daron: The text Q&A! We did it when I was on staff at my previous church. A couple Sundays we offered sermon texting. During the sermon, people were allowed to text questions, which we would answer at the end. It’s amazing what happens when a service goes from a monologue to a dialog. Some of the questions seemed to have nothing to do with the sermon — an indication that what we were trying to say is not always what people were hearing!

When people are allowed to interact, the learning becomes deeper. It allows the congregation to become more engaged.

I’m not saying that everyone should start hanging out in bars; it’s about going to someone’s third space. Some author years ago defined your home as your first space, work as second space, and then everyone has a third space — a place where they enjoy spending their time.

Starbucks discovered this when they exploded on the scene. They wanted to be everybody’s third space. They created an environment where people wanted to be.

After working in a church for twelve years, I began to buy into the myth that Jesus didn’t work on adults anymore. I think the national stats claim that 90% of the people make a decision for Christ before the age of eleven. I don’t think we have many people coming to faith past the age of twenty-one.

I remember one of our first fundraisers. We’d just completed the video attached to this article, and it dawned on me that everyone in the video was over twenty-one, and the oldest I think was sixty-two.  Jesus works on adults. Church needs to start creating real environments for people over the age of eighteen.

Churches have camps, conferences, and lock-ins, everything to program for children up to high school. Unless you’re at a rare church that has a young adult college ministry, after eighteen, churches expect you to just show up and attend. Jesus still works on adults. He works on people who have never gone to church a day in their life. We need to create environments where people can authentically meet Jesus and be surprised by his love.

I’d love to see golf course theology or just fill-in-the-blank of any place where people gather. If you can go to a place where people gather, engage and entertain them, Jesus starts doing what He does.

Rockin’ God’s House: What type of music do you perform?

Daron: As I mentioned earlier, this is an away game. The predominate style of music is secular. When my band is playing, we play about 95% secular. If we have a band coming in which is a cover band and some of the guys in the band are Christians, we’ll ask the band to choose a worship or spiritual song before or after my talk for the night. Occasionally, we will have a worship band play.

Rockin’ God’s House: Do you offer communion or baptisms?

Daron: Not at the event. We’ve had people who have come to Christ and been baptized outside of that environment. Last year we experimented with communion at our Tailgate Theology locations because they fell on a Sunday. We took a moment to explain what communion is and why Jesus gave it to us, and we invited people to partake. However, Pub Theology is not really designed for that. We’re not trying to do church at a bar, we’re trying to be the church at the bar.

Rockin’ God’s House: Tell me about your business partnerships?

Daron: Each bar pays us to be present as entertainment for the night. Additionally, we have sponsorships through T-shirt companies, local restaurants, a dental office, and an eye doctor.

Rockin’ God’s House: Should every church offer something similar to Pub Theology?

Daron: No, it can be a dangerous environment. It’s not easy to do what we do. There are temptations and adversity. It will put you on the devil’s radar.

But more than that, you must be authentic to the environment. Jesus could go into real life environments and be accepted by people who didn’t know Him. I earlier mentioned Golf Theology, but I’m not a golfer; it wouldn’t be authentic to start it just to reach people. I would look like a moron dressed up and acting like a golfer.

For me I’ve been in bands my whole life, and I’ve played bars much of my life. I can be authentic to the environment because I lived it for many years.

Find the environment which is authentic to you, and meet Jesus, because He is already there!