Meeting Jesus in a Bar

 by Chad Powers

“You have church at the what?!?!”
“Yes, you heard me right, we have church at the bar.”
“The bar?”
“Yes, church at the Monkey Bar.”
“Do they serve drinks?”
“No, it’s not open yet on Sunday morning—but we do have coffee. Why don’t you drop by to check it out?”
“OK, I guess I’ll see you Sunday . . . at the bar. I’m not one to go to church, but I’ll come see what this is all about.”

That’s about how it goes when inviting someone to attend our church’s online service at the Monkey Bar. Among many of the remote campus locations, including many living rooms and other small gathering places, we have church at a bar. It’s located at the nicknamed “Monkey Bar” because years ago there was a monkey living there. The official name was the Train Stop Inn. The history is interesting and worth a read.

Obeying Jesus
The location was the draw for the current owners, Mark and Amy Altemeier. Nestled in next to the Little Miami River and the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail, the building has always been a spot where people enjoy the scenery and spending some time together. It’s a great location for a small business. Owning a bar gave Mark and Amy pause. But what if it could be used as a beacon of hope for those seeking something? What if it could be a place where God’s message could be shared? What if those seeking . . . something . . . had an answer right in front of them? Amy had a dream that someone looking for a way to fill that empty spot could have that answer be the bar, but not in a way in which one would normally think.

I ask you, where better to reach out to the lost? Jude 1:23 tells us to “save others by snatching them from the fire” (NIV). For many, the thought of attending a church is beyond comprehension to them. “I don’t belong,” they might say, or “I am not worthy of going to church” is another prevalent thought. The fallacy of needing to first live right before attending church is too often at the top of the excuse list. But what if we as followers of God were to reach out to those people right where they are?

Jesus himself said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17, NLT). Jesus also said in Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’” (NLT). The Pharisees and teachers of the law, the supposedly godly teachers of Jesus’ day, didn’t like it that Jesus hung out with the despised tax collectors and other “sinners.” Since we are all “sinners saved by grace,” following the example of our Lord, that is exactly the intent of the church at the bar—to develop friendships with whoever comes to the bar.

Developing Community
Permanent signs and marketing material invite people into what is happening on Sunday mornings at the bar. When asked by any patron about the signs, the staff answer by sharing the time and location. When you walk into the basement, you’ll find a welcoming community of believers and honest seekers, desiring to hear and share the good news that Jesus came to bring. Small talk about the past week happens. Community is formed. “How’s your mom doing? . . . What happened with your prayer request about your job interview last week? . . . How are you feeling today? . . . We missed you last week.” These are all commonly overheard every Sunday morning.

The online message is delivered, as it is to anyone logging onto the Christ’s Church website. Throughout the teaching we hear each week, there are several opportunities to pause, reflect, and discuss questions related to the message within the context of this group. When asked about this kind of unique delivery of the teaching, several attenders responded:

“It’s a great way to consume the words of the pastors and talk about them in real time.”
“I love the way that we can talk about how a message affects me here and now.”
“I like how it engages me to think, but also hear what others have to say.”

Fitting In
When asked about the appeal of going to church at a bar instead of a traditional church building, one attendee replied, “I feel a little overwhelmed at a great big church service. This atmosphere just feels more comfortable for me.”

Another stated, “We don’t live as close to the church building as some other folks who attend our church, and I never really quite fit in at the church building. But, the gathering and community found here is my church. I love what is happening here!”

That kind of comfort, dialog, and interaction builds a community of sharing and caring. Prayers and praises are shared at the end of each service. Newcomers are welcomed. Names are added to the prayer list. Prayers are lifted up for medical ailments, for those suffering losses, or facing life’s difficulties. Meals are prepared and delivered to those in need. All of this is part of being the church, desiring to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to act as he would have us act. And the invitations flow out to others from attendees.

Moses stuttered. Rahab the prostitute saved Joshua and the spies in Jericho. Gideon defeated the mighty Midianites with only 300 warriors. The Bible has countless examples of ways in which God has shown that his plan is perfect, and that he acts in ways that are counterintuitive to “normal” or worldly thinking. God yearns for us to share his grace, the good news of his love for all of us, and that Christ died for our sins. Why wouldn’t God use a bar to share that good news?

Chad Powers has been attending Christ’s Church for over twenty years. He serves as an elder of the church, where he loves to volunteer at many activities as well as facilitate small group Bible studies.

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