October 1, 2020
By: Rev. Meg Gaston
Sometimes the best way to let others know the God you serve isn’t what they may think is to get out of the walls of your church and into the spaces where those who have been hurt by the church congregate. That’s exactly what Rev. Travis Smith, pastor at Salem UMC in Bostic, NC is doing through Sacred Ale. There is a need for a non-threatening place to go that’s away from the church; and Travis will tell you that there is no place better than a bar or a pub. Travis said “most of the time when we think of having spiritual conversations we expect people to come to church. But why not take these conversations to the turf where people feel more comfortable?”
What is great about this approach to a new way of doing ministry is that it is fairly inexpensive. Go to your local bar, pub, or brewery and ask them what their slowest night is. Then ask if it would be alright for you to take up some space at one of their tables. Usually they won’t mind because they know you will bring in business on an otherwise pretty empty night.
What’s nice about meeting people in a bar is that any hang-ups they may have about church quickly dissolve once the conversation begins. Travis usually arrives with a topic to get the conversation going. He says traditionally it does not include scripture but is usually from the current culture. Travis never pushes his agenda but will try to tie it back to his faith tradition at the end by relating it to his personal Christian perspective and how he sees the world. Travis’ approach is to try and stay away from language like “this is what the Bible says” and uses more of “this is how it works in my life as a Christian.”
There isn’t much commitment from the participants, which takes a lot of pressure away right off the bat. As long as everyone there is willing to be respectful and listen to the opinions of others, a great conversation is fostered. There are folks from Travis’ church that will attend sometimes to help keep things going, but really this can be accomplished with only one or two people from the church to show up and lead the discussion. Most of the advertising for Sacred Ale is done through Facebook and word of mouth.
The impact this has on all involved can be pretty transformational. Those in his church have found that they have more in common with those who may never attend their church than they thought. They quickly realize that the people they meet there aren’t so much anti-church, they have just been hurt or had negative experiences so no longer see church as a place of comfort. Keeping this in mind, Travis leaves everything low key. He doesn’t say a prayer, because so many of those he encounters are sensitive to traditional church language, so even prayers can be hard and off putting.
Meeting people where they are and having a conversation with them around what is happening in the world and what that means for you and your life is a low risk, high reward approach to sharing the love of God with those in your midst. The best thing about it is that even the smallest church with the least amount of resources can see great things come from something like this.