Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Parable of the Mainline Churches

A certain pub owner served nothing but the finest beers -- Guinness, Smithwick's, Samuel Adams, Widmer, Rogue -- his selection was exquisite. Many years of prosperity had made him very wealthy, but as his clientelle aged his business was no longer thriving. Reflecting on this, he decided that he missed the packed houses and lively conversations more than he would miss his money, so one night he went out and posted a sign: "Free Beer". Still the crowds did not come.

For many nights he sat at his bar and puzzled over this. He discussed it at length with his remaining patrons. They didn't understand why people wouldn't rush to accept this generous offer.

One day he left his establishment and went out for a walk. He was amazed to find that his competitors had people in the streets handing out free beer to anyone who would take it. People in the public square chased after passers-by trying to convince them to try their beer. A sign announced a free beer festival in the park that weekend. He went to one of these competing businesses and found that they were serving Pabst Blue Ribbon and Milwaukee's Best, but the place was packed.

He returned to his own pub to consider what he had seen. His competitors, he reasoned, must be just as desperate as he was, having also resorted to giving out free beer, but they, having less money and more customers, couldn't afford to give away quality beer as he did. So he sat back and waited. Eventually the people in the streets would come to him.

But he waited and waited, and the crowds did not come. He decided that perhaps the common people lacked the refined taste to appreciate his beers. The beers his competitors offered must have more appeal to the common folk, he thought. So he put out a sign announcing a "PBR Night" once a week. A few new faces came in, and a few of them became regular customers, but he didn't draw the crowds he had hoped for.

Eventually, the man grew old and died, never having recaptured the great crowds he remembered from his glory days.


LutherPunk said...

Where do I sign up for PBR night?!?!?

Andy said...

No, no, no! Don't you see? PBR night is bad. Repent and believe the good news about Hefeweizen.

David said...

or Hacker Schorr Brau, my favorite from der Motherland.

toujoursdan said...

In the circles I move in, nobody wants beer at all, even when given to them in the public square or on the street. These people were raised on beer, already know what it tastes like and just don't want it anymore - cheap or refined.

They find it odd that there are people who still think beer is worth giving out and are amused when these folks assume that they are introducing the passers-by to something new, or their assumption that having a drink at a festival will lead to a new taste.

As far as they are concerned, no beer is really tasty. The "refined" beer tastes a bit stale and strange and the "cheap" beer is... well cheap... without any lingering, satisfying taste at all. A few may end up drinking newer, trendier, tastier wine coolers or hard lemonades, but most find that they get through life without needing much of anything at all.

They see what beer does to people; the weird ways they act when they've had a lot of it, and that just reinforces their perception that life is less complicated without beer altogether. Who wants to be around angry drunks or needs the extra calories and hangovers?

Andy said...

That is a problem, isn't it?

So what do we do with that? Are they right? Is beer really not worth drinking?

People with that mindset obviously don't want us to seek them out, and they're definitely not going to come knocking at our door. I think the best we can do is try to fix whatever our internal problems are that really do make beer drinking bad.

toujoursdan said...

To jump out of the analogy for a moment, my perception is that both mainline and fundamentalist churches are competing for a rapidly decreasing number of people willing to engage organized religion at all. I don't know whether evangelicalism is still growing in the US but do know that the fastest growing part of the population is church alumni.

When I tell people about my church involvement, many say that they experience God in their lives, enjoy the services but "have issues with organized religion". The beer isn't their relationship with God in this case, but their perceptions of, and relationship with the church.

My priest works his tail off opening the church up to community groups, holding and advertising special services like the blessing of the animals and hosting community events. The goal of this is to make church seem hospitable, rather than alien, to people in the neighbourhood. But this hasn't translated into regular Sunday attendance.

Pastor David said...

Does this make October Fest the world's largest Revival?

Andy said...

Pastor David,

Yes! Particularly the Mt. Angel Octoberfest taking place as it does in the shadow of Mt. Angel Abbey.

Andy said...


Thanks for seriously engaging this parable. I think you're raising a very important issue.

In the US, it seems that evangelicalism is doing very well. This might be an illusion as the shifting of all the rats to the bow gives the impression of a full ship, but that doesn't mean the ship isn't sinking. The mega-church movement might be getting its growth from the people pouring out of the mainline churches.

In the Pacific Northwest where I live, the prevailing mood is much like what you describe -- everybody's spiritual, nobody goes to church. Interest in God is alive and well. Jesus is pretty cool. But church? Not so much.

The thing that should probably jump out at us in all of this is that as a Church (in the ecclesiological sense) we aren't on a mission to get people into buildings on Sunday to sing songs and share bread and wine. We usually act like that's the main point of our mission, but we all know it isn't. That doesn't mean we're any less on a mission.

Maybe the people are right to shun churches. We still need to find a way to bring the kingdom of God to them.

Jonathan said...

Beer in the USA is dead. But so what? It's flowing like a river in Africa. The future of beer is in Africa. If we Americans are lucky, perhaps Africa will send some beer-missionaries our way in a few decades. By then, perhaps beer will seem strange and new again to Americans.