In most congregations I know, if a ministry event or program got down to being just two or three people (and one of them was the pastor), they would probably look to end it soon. And until a year ago, I would probably have done the same thing.
We began our Pub Theology ministry just over two years ago, when I began at my current congregation. More accurately, we joined another congregation’s Young Adults group in the city and met with them at least once a month. Then we received a grant between the two congregations, and decided to start a new location closer to us. The idea was to grow and expand and have new folks join in and start new pub theology ministries. For a while it worked, we had other locations and folks joining us from Meetup and other online sites. Fast forward two years, and the other church group doesn’t meet anymore, and the other locations have faded out, but we still meet. Although we have had as many as fifteen, we are most often down to five or less, and sometimes just two or three. And there have been a couple of times I have been the only one.
I mentioned to my Pastoral Relations Committee once that it might be time to pull the plug on this ministry. “Oh please don’t,” a member told me. “Even if it is just you that are there, you are there on behalf of the rest of us.” Me, having a beer—or more likely, a Diet Coke—and waiting for people who will not show up that evening. No, I disagreed with her. But she continued.
“You see, I know someone who doesn’t go to church and thinks the church is just a hypocritical place. But when I told her about our Pub Theology, she listened. She said she could go to a church like that someday. And I keep inviting her and one day she will come with me. But until then—you never know who you might meet.”
It’s true, I don’t. And if I stop going, there is no opportunity.
However, I’ve stopped thinking of our Pub Theology ministry as an outreach opportunity—except for the fact that twice a month, we tip our server generously and are a witness that there are still good, kind people in the world who happen to be from a church.
Instead, I’ve seen it as a place where ministry happens in the conversation, and these kind of conversations just don’t happen in the church that we are used to.
One of our attendees brought a friend one day who remarked that we got off-topic really quickly. Every week I bring a question or a thought to begin the conversation, and we stick with it maybe five minutes. We try to get back to it but inevitably are sidetracked. Sometimes those attending feel bad that we got sidetracked. I don’t. Unless it is someone railroading the conversation, I welcome those side trails to the discourse. That’s where I learn about relationships, work, values, goals in life, dreams that have been delayed or died, broken relationships, sorrow, joy—you name it. That’s where the real ministry is taking place, in these conversations about the lives we lead. We’ve gotten to know each other on a much deeper level than we have on Sunday morning during worship and coffee hour, or during Bible study, or any other traditional church ministry activity.
In some ways I wish we’d stop calling it Pub Theology or whatever phrase we are using, because the theological discourse—while interesting (our topic last night was hell, whether there is one or not) rarely scratches the surface. What does dig deeper is talking about our lives. And it’s there that we find the harder questions to ask and answer.
We’ve had as many as five in recent weeks, or as few as two, but they still come. And I love these meetings so much and I’m so glad that my congregation understands that they are not full of people all the time, but they are leading to fuller life. And as one attendee said a few weeks ago: “This is Church. Right here, right now. And it’s church on Sunday morning, too. But this is no less church for me here than there.”