Over the last few weeks in my “Church Dropouts” series, I’ve alerted you to four reasons we’re losing devoted church members; shared some strategies to perhaps help disrupt these patterns; and sounded the alarm on a new category of people who are on the fringes of our churches hoping to be noticed before they actually leave.
My hope and prayer is to raise awareness in the midst of all the church growth plans and new church plants being born. While I’m all for celebrating the people that are coming into the church every Sunday, I also want us, as responsible leaders in the Church, to lament and respond to those who are deciding not to return. We must also acknowledge that those who already left still need a connection to God and to His people.
Throughout this article series, I’ve discovered and heard from some folks around the country, many of them former “traditional” pastors, who have voiced the same questions I’m asking. They have similar reasons for leaving their church positions, and in many cases their livelihoods, to pursue their call differently. They are creating spaces and places for those who still love God but not necessarily the local church, as we know it. I think you’ll be stirred and challenged by their stories:
Daron Earlewine, a former church planter, started Pub Theology in 2009 in Indianapolis, what he calls “1/3 a party, 1/3 charity event and 1/3 church service.”
After six years in church planting, Daron had a “missional freak out” moment when he realized that he did not have any meaningful relationships with people who did not know Jesus. In trying to have a conversation with his unchurched neighbor, he realized it was an “awkward conversation.” When he told his wife about it, she told him bluntly, “That’s because you’re not a real person anymore. …unless you’re talking about church, at church, doing church, or around church people, you don’t know know how to just hang out and be normal.”
That conversation started Daron on a quest. Through prayer, Pub Theology was birthed. Essentially, he and his team are the entertainment at local bars but they get to speak about Jesus and raise money for a worthy cause. As Daron puts it, “we wanted to introduce people to the heart of God before we introduce or re-introduce them to God.” While most patrons expect an ordinary bar night, they instead encounter a time of hearing stories of compassion and see people being generous to a cause.
“Recently, we raised $6,000 for a young teenage girl who was fighting leukemia. We had her and her family share their story. There people are moved heart and soul by compassion, generosity and hope by loving our neighbor. After we share about the cause and get people to hear the stories, I go up and share a four-minute talk that points to Jesus.”
Daron helps people make sense of what they may be feeling after experiencing that atypical bar night by sharing how God created them to be connected to others and to give back hope to the world. As a follow-up, he invites people to come back to Cocktails and Conversation where questions about life, God and everything in between can be asked with people who are also hungry for answers. Pub Theology nights led to Daron being invited to host a three-hour radio show called Radio Theology on one of Indianapolis’ top secular stations. Now known around Indy as the “Pub Pastor” Daron’s ministries attract the unchurched, dechurched and churched out. His rationale for doing these out-of-the-box outreaches is simple: “We believe that we learn to live our lives by doing what Jesus did. He came from Heaven to earth to have conversations with people just like us. He went to parties and hung out in the everyday places of life so that people could get to know Him better.”