In a move that has garnered more attention than they likely anticipated, Greater Purpose Community Church in Santa Cruz, California, recently changed their name (formerly Garfield Park Community Church), sold their church building, and moved into a temporary space at the Food Lounge–a community space with plenty of beer taps. The pastor, Christopher VanHall specifically asked the lounge’s owner to keep the bar open.
Why? In VanHall’s words, “There’s nothing in the Bible that says you can’t drink alcohol in a responsible manner.”
So now, on a weekly basis, church parishioners gather to pray, worship, and drink beer together. VanHall is no exception as he keeps a glass of beer sitting beside his open Bible while he preaches what he calls, “progressive theology.”
And few would argue that his theology is, in fact, progressive. While evangelicalism is increasingly torn on where it stands on alcohol, 54% of evangelicals still abstain from alcoholic beverages of any kind according to studies.
According to VanHall, everyone at the church chooses to drink responsibility, and the alcohol actually contributes to a better, more conversational atmosphere. VanHall went so far as to joke that a couple of beers actually make his sermon sound better.
Next up: Greater Purpose Community Church is building a brewery in which to hold services.
According to VanHall, “I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if a church could figure out a way to make a product where they split the profits with local community service organizations?’ We love beer. We love making beer. Why not do a brewery?” He did not explain if or how the church would maintain its tax exempt status.
Greater Purpose Community Church is now converting an old downtown bookstore into a brewery where the church will meet for services. The plan is to hold church services before opening the brewery to the public. VanHall says he has no desire to dupe the public into thinking they are coming in for a drink only to spring a church service on unsuspecting patrons. He says they will keep things separate.
The church hopes to donate 30 to 60% of profits to charity.
Why a brewery?
Simply put, the Greater Purpose Community Church clearly does not care what anyone–including the evangelical community–thinks of them or their decisions. In an interview with NBC, VanHall said, “We decided to sell the building, because for us a church is a community and a movement.”
When he first set out to plant a church in Santa Cruz, VanHall did so with the hope that it would be “a place of safety for those who have justifiably left the Church due to bigotry and hate-filled theology.”
According to the church website, the mission statement reads: All theological and political perspectives are welcome and our communion is open to all who wish to partake regardless of your beliefs! Here at GPCC we will embrace you regardless of your faith, personal life choices, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, political preference, social status, or economic standing. We love and value all equally and at Greater Purpose Community Church: ALL LITERALLY MEANS ALL! Radical love and unity are sacred in our community.
Brewery: Something borrowed or something new?
The concept of attracting parishioners to church using something to drink is nothing new. Churches have been implementing increasingly impressive coffee bars and cozy social settings for decades. And even the idea of attracting people with beer is nothing new. An NPR article from 2013 boasts the title, “To Stave Off Decline, Churches Attract New Members With Beer.” The opening lines of the article read, “With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft beer.”
A church in Boston–which has since closed its doors–actually called itself Pub Church since it met in a pub. On its church blog it stated, “Feel free to bring your own shot glass for communion.”
In downtown Portland, Oregon, the First Christian Church dedicates one Saturday night each month to an event called Beer & Hymns.
The list of churches over the years that have utilized alcohol in an effort to attract new church members is long. A common theme?–Modern churches want to communicate to would-be visitors and church members alike that they are welcome and that the church is a safe space for “sinners or saints” alike.
Would you attend a church that served beer?
~ Christian Patriot Daily