What can churches learn from the local pub?

From the age of 16 to 30 years old I was involved in the local public house trade, starting off as a glass collector, then barman, moving up to manager and finally, after running away with the takings and getting the sack, I became a bouncer. My time in the industry has plenty of negative memories for me, and this time of my life wasn’t the most profitable. Over the years, I developed an unhealthy obsession for promiscuity, drugs, gambling and violence. Yet even throughout this life of sin and reckless living, I had the opportunity to witness God working in people’s lives through  what some people would call “Common Grace”.

The customers of the local pub that I managed, were made up by the diverse local community, numerous occupations were represented, as well as people who were unemployed and retired. There were bin men, business men, teachers, police, bouncers and even a poet, (Well if you count smoking a joint and writing a load of nonsense down and getting it published, being a poet, then we did.) yet when you walked into that bar everyone was equal regardless of academic or employment status. There was no favouritism, everyone became the object of banter, waited their turn at the bar, the pool table and the dart board and everyone had to get a round in.

There were plenty of rival ‘watering holes’ in walking distance from my pub and they were all competing for our ‘regulars’. The biggest pub used to attract people from miles around on a Tuesday and Friday night, but it would often be empty the rest of the week. It advertised single nights, karaoke nights and even bought an L shaped pool table and paid (in free beer) a troubled, Professional Snooker Player to challenge the customers to pool competitions.  Although these promotions brought in lots of short term visitors, they didn’t bring in any loyal ‘regulars’. This meant that these novelty pubs had to struggle to keep up with the latest fads and theme nights. They had to constantly evolve or they would lose their customers to the next new theme pub with the next new idea.

But our pub never had that problem, we never got as busy as the other pubs during their busy nights, yet neither did we get as quiet as their quiet nights. We were consistent and survived, when many others struggled and closed. The reason our pub survived (and is still going now) is because we had a community of ‘Regulars’ that were committed to being part of the daily life of the pub, the bloke who came once a week was welcome, but his £20 a week didn’t keep the pub going. What kept the pub alive was the daily £10 being spent by every Regular who came in on a daily basis, we had a 24/7 community of ‘Regulars’.

As a pub we did Christmas together, New Year together and we even did holidays and day trips together. We organised race trips, football tournaments, stag do’s, hen do’s, and the majority of births, deaths, and marriages were all celebrated together in our pub. You see, even amongst the obvious negatives to be found in spending your life in a pub, there was numerous positives that could be found too, such as deep genuine friendships, loyalty and a 24/7 community that I’ve never seen rivalled, even in the church.

A few weeks back whilst having a short break in Scarborough, I took Rachel, the girls and the dog to a pub down the road from where we are staying. As soon as we walked through the door, we were instantly made to feel welcome, the customers and staff bent over backwards to make us feel at home. Even when we returned next day, we had the same reception, they even remembered the dogs name. A small touch, but we were made to feel part of their community.

When I left my old life behind, I left a lot of things that I will never miss, like addictions, violence and fear, but one thing I do miss, is that community. Ive been a Christian since 2003 and have never been part of a church that replicates the community that I left behind. This has been a difficult transition for me, leaving a community that meets daily and joining one that struggles to meet more than twice a week. If we want to see people join our churches and be productive members of a believing community, we need to make every effort to at least match the community we are asking people to leave behind.

If we want to see a church that grows committed members we must create a culture of 24/7 community, deep friendship and loyalty with our leadership and church, or we will risk becoming like a dodgy theme pub, that chases every fad and gimmick that brings in a crowd. A crowd of visitors at the expense of regulars.

Similarities between Pub regulars and Church Members

In a pub, like a church, the leader must be trusted to hold standards, the locals want a landlord they can trust to maintain the standards of pub, by keeping out undesirables whilst keeping the beer spot on. In a similar way, church members need the same trust, that their Pastor will keep out false teachers and keep the preaching spot on.

If a pub can be an image of equality and diversity, shouldn’t our churches be doing the same? Are our churches reflecting our local community? Is our leadership?

Regulars will notice when someones missing, because the night, the domino game, the darts and the banter isn’t the same when your a man down. How much more should our churches notice when a member of the body is missing?

Even if a new pub opens with comfier seats, more attractive bar staff, a better quiz and cheaper beer, to a regular, their local will always be their local. What about your church? Will your church always be your church? Or will you be off as soon as you find a better youth work, worship group, or preacher?

Author: Ian Williamson

Ian Williamson is a church planter and the pastor of New Life Church, Middlesbrough. Ian has lived and worked in the town his whole life and has been in full time Christian ministry since 2007.

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