Thinking of staring a pub-based fresh expression, I came across a Grove book, written in 2005 which outlines a church’s efforts to connect to the local pub community (Peter Howell-Jones & Nick Willis, Pints of View: Encounters down the Pub, Grove, 2005). Whilst this ministry doesn’t claim to be church, and began before fresh expressions language was around, it reflects the church’s desire to connect with people outside the church building, where people gather, and to be relevant to issues of everyday life.
The fomat for this monthly group arose from three stand-alone sessions. Essentially, a quiet area of a pub is comandered, and members of the public then proceed to ask questions of a panel, comprised of the Vicar, other Christians, and sometimes outside experts. The sessions last 90 minutes and are usually followed by informal chat. It seems that there is a general theme each time, but essentially any questions are up for discussion.
The writers see the advantages of of this ministry, which in their context has born some fruit in encouraging some to join the church. They see it as a stepping stone, but crucially a place to theology to be discussed in the public sphere and a place to develop relationship with those who wouldn’t naturally go into a church building to ask their questions. It also helps the public to see the church outside the building in the community, and to understand that Christianity has something relevant and useful to say to everyday life. The final chapters offer a process for other churches to begin to investigate this type of ministry, recognising that in each context it will look different.
It is certainly a useful read, and offers good insights on branding, professionalism, and good engagement with alternative viewpoints. It also allows plenty of space for discussion. Could it have developed into a fresh expression? Perhaps, but that wasn’t in the vision of the organisers, and in doing so it would lose its evangelistic edge and would change the nature of the event entirely . It is difficult to see how one might disciple someone, or worship in this context whilst also giving open space to the questioner to air and explore difficult themes. It may also be appear more exclusive to those who happen to be in the pub. But the principles of the church getting outside the church building to engage with poeple where they gather is a good one. The authors even make a case for the pub being the contemporary Areopagus.
A pub-based fresh expression may begin in the same place though – with thoughtful visiting to the context with an effort to understand it, and with building relationships. The initial sessions might also take a question and answer style. But at some point the engagement will have to move beyond initial apologetics to address the individual aspects of people’s lives. It would need to draw them into being a communtiy, on in discipleship, up in worship and ultimately, out in mission themselves.