Beer Church, Rule Breaking, and Jesus

Disaffiliation and disengagement from church may be the norm, but everyone seems thirsty for connection.

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Community enjoying Beer Church in Eau Claire, WI.

Recently, I watched the movie “Air”—Nike’s recruitment story of Michael Jordan. In the story, we see a list of Nike’s founding principles. Things like, “Our business is change”, “Stretch the possible”, “Live off the land”, “It won’t be pretty”, “We’re on offense all the time”. And my personal favorite: “Break the rules”. 

We see rule breaking in action when Sonny Vaccaro (played by Matt Damon) travels across the country from Portland, OR to Wilmington, NC to visit Michael’s mother. He wasn’t supposed to go, he didn’t get permission, but he followed his instincts and went anyway. According to the movie, Sonny’s visit with Deloris Jordan was the catalyst that led to one of the most historic and lucrative shoe deals of all-time in 1984.

But this isn’t a story about shoes.

Introducing … beer church!

In May of 2022, our ministry (GetJesusFit) launched beer church at a brewery in Eau Claire, WI. Beer church is not a worship service—it’s a low-key and judgment-free space for community and conversation. Our goal is to be a fun and approachable space to talk about faith without losing your mind or sense of humor. 

Beer church is not your typical church for a few reasons: We don’t have a pastor, we don’t play worship music, we don’t have a denomination, we only meet 1x a month and we are … breaking the rules.

Rule breaking and Jesus

Rule breaking is a lesson in entrepreneurship and innovation, and Jesus was a rule breaker extraordinaire. 

In the Gospels, we find a table-flipping Savior who wasn’t interested in maintaining traditions or making the religious happy. Jesus’ teachings were offensive, His actions shattered boundaries, and His inclusive, unconditional love defied a religious system of corruption, hypocrisy and judgment. 

Jesus broke the rules by who He spent time with, where He went, when He healed, what He said, and who He claimed to be. Like Sonny driving to meet Deloris, Jesus went the extra mile to be with us. Rule breaking was central to Jesus’ mission and legacy—a legacy, I believe, the Church needs to reclaim.

Jesus belongs in breweries

I know what you’re thinking: Jesus belongs everywhere! 

Of course, we agree, but the Church hasn’t always made space for Jesus outside of our sanctuaries and worship halls. In many ways, Christian culture has confined Jesus within our church buildings, rather than setting Him free among the people.

We need to unlearn this.

At Beer church we proudly say “Jesus Belongs in Breweries”. It’s on our t-shirts, stickers and marketing materials. We want to create a buzz about Jesus and help people reimagine who He is, where He belongs and maybe even where we’ve kept Him out.

A brief history of good beer & Good News

Full disclosure: Beer church isn’t a new thing. 

The Church has a long history with fermented beverages. From Jesus turning water into wine, to Benedictine monks brewing beer as an alternative to unsanitary water, to Martin Luther’s clear enthusiasm for a pint (or two), to modern ministry efforts like Theology on Tap, Beer and Hymns, Pub Theology, Bibles and Brews, Lagers with the Lord, What Would Jesus Brew, etc. 

The relationship between good beer and the Good News is strong. 


It shouldn’t come as a surprise that breweries and churches often share similar values, such as: supporting communities, helping neighbors, hosting life events and providing a welcoming space for all. Much of Jesus’ ministry is reminiscent of a local pub setting—sitting at tables, having a drink, sharing a meal, asking questions, engaging in conversation and, let’s be honest, probably petting dogs. 

Certainly, Beer church isn’t for everyone, but post-Covid, everyone seems thirsty for human connection. For us, breweries embody ekklesia, which is the Greek word for “church” in the New Testament. Ekklesia is translated as gathering or (you guessed it) community. 

Bruce and Mary

Soon after we launched Beer church, I met a couple named Bruce and Mary. After a few months, I noticed they hadn’t missed one of our “services”. When I asked where they went to church, without hesitation Bruce proudly announced, “Beer church!”. It made me laugh. It also made me curious. I asked if they’d be willing to share a few reasons for attending. They agreed. Here’s what they said:

Mary: “Beer church encourages questions and allows us each to travel our own journey. It doesn’t push for volunteers. The brewery atmosphere is really laid back and the leaders are very encouraging.”

Bruce: “We hadn’t found a church we wanted to attend, and Beer church sounded interesting. We continue to attend because we like the interaction without pressure to attend regularly, or follow a specific doctrine … People are genuinely happy with our coming.”

Bruce and Mary were very kind, and while they forgot to mention how messy church in a brewery can get, they represent a growing number of people who are looking for something different. 

I don’t know

Pew Research, Gallup polls and Barna studies all point to some form of church decline, disaffiliation and general disengagement. 

I’ll be the first to say, I don’t know how to fix that. 

What I do know is that we need more outside-of-the-box thinking for those who are outside the church or who don’t fit into religious boxes. We need to break a few rules like Jesus and practice radical hospitality and non-judgment (Romans 12:13, Luke 6:37). We need spiritual wellness and approachable spaces for people like Bruce and Mary.

Untapped potential

When Michael Jordan signed with Nike in 1984 his mother Deloris apparently said, “It’s just a shoe until my son puts his foot in it.” In other words, the shoe doesn’t make the player, the player makes the shoe. 

Beer church doesn’t have an all-star player, but we do have a whole lot of curiosity, an openness to Jesus and an appreciation for each other’s life experience. We’re a question-driven, table-centered community gathering in a judgment-free space for people who love good beer and Good News. 

I don’t know where Beer church will be in 5 years, but at the moment I’d like to raise a glass to untapped potential.

Cheers!

Where does Jesus belong in your community?

Check out our Beer church video on YouTube or learn more at getjesusfit.com

  • Bryan Willkom

    Bryan Willkom is the founder and director of JesusFit - a nonprofit at the intersection of faith and wellness (getjesusfit.com). Bryan is an ecumenical faith leader, entrepreneur, coach and content creator. Bryan is also a part of a local community initiative called Beer Church.

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