In Theory: Must church be held in church?

September 19, 2013

Holding a church meeting in a pub may at first seem a bit odd, but so-called theology pubs — regular pubs and bars where meetings are held, usually once a week — are catching on across the country.

According to Keith Anderson, a pastor in Philadelphia, “the world we live in demands that we do theology in a different way, on-the-fly, in different places, with different people....” He calls this “theology without a net.”

Using blogs and social media, pub theologians introduce topics to be discussed at informal meetings in pubs. Anderson says this is different from the usual “controlled environments” such as churches and classrooms. No one person is in charge of discussions, and everyone gets to speak up when they want to.


Bryan Berghoef, a pastor who runs pub events, sums up the meetings as “beer, conversation and God,” and says of the meetings, “everything is up for discussion, no assumptions, no barriers to entry.”

There are such groups all over the U.S., including four in California, and more form each year.

Q: What is your view of holding open discussions of faith in an informal setting, and how might you approach this perceived need?

I have seen these groups in action and they seem like a fine way to do a religious affinity group, assuming you are morally OK with alcohol. What has always kept me from considering this an alternative to church is the type of people it allows into the discussion.

I believe a church should have the ability to reach out to people of all ages. Hosting church in a bar basically communicates that people under the age of 21 cannot be part of the group. I believe that is a huge barrier to entry.

Also, adults with young families struggle in this context because the “church” is not helping them with the spiritual development of their children. All in all, for a twentysomething armchair theologian, this is a great thing. But it is not a model for a church.

David Derus
Fuller Theological Seminary


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