I used to wonder why there are so many churches in my town. The different names, traditions, denominations, flavors, colors and styles drove me a little crazy. Didn’t Jesus pray for his followers to be one? When I walked out of my religious tradition that demanded sameness from all the faithful, and walked into a real relationship with Jesus, I put the inconsistency on the shelf.

My childhood church repeated the same service, the same sacraments over and over again, two times a day and two or three times a weekend, all over town and across the world. They were unified, all the same, at least on the surface.

When I became a Christ-follower, I wondered at the Old Testament history of Israel. As they moved into their promised land, they were tribal, twelve tribes, and they didn’t have a centralized government. The religious term is a “Theocracy,” because the entire nation looked to God’s leadership over their small nation. They didn’t set up a monarchy, at least not right away, and when they did, the bible records that God wasn’t happy with their plan.

So what’s all this have to do with Ubering?

All around town, I drop off and pick up patrons from bars and restaurants of all shapes and sizes. From hole-in-the-wall neighborhood bars that have been around for decades to new, glass front mega-breweries, they’re all full, every weekend, and their patrons are just as fervent and territorial as any Christian about his church on a Sunday morning

Like Christian churches that preach the same message with different styles and music, the bars serve the same foods and pour the same drinks . . . all prepared a little differently from the bar down the street. In the same way a Catholic would be as uncomfortable in a Pentecostal church as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, patrons of the biker bar on Bridge Street would receive a cold welcome at the alternate lifestyle club on Division. I met a bartender the other day that served designer drinks in a tiny hole in the wall bar that holds a maximum of 18 people. Yet his pub is as busy and profitable at their level, as the 350 seat brewery less than a mile down the road.

This may sound odd or obvious . . . but it’s a huge revelation for me when I realized that the same aspects that make a successful bar create a prospering church:

  • People go to a neighborhood bar because they’re welcomed, and with friends.
  • They pick a pub because they like the atmosphere, the food, and the music.
  • Small bars have their closely knit clientele, while at big breweries the customers tend to meet in small groups, and connect with friends around the table.
  • Everybody knows your name.
  • No one hassles you about who you are, what you like, your political persuasion or personal struggles.
  • If you do get hassled, another club waits just down the street to try next week.

Grand Rapids is a city of churches, which used to frustrate me because Jesus prayed for his followers to be one. Yet my city seemed to compete for dollars and people to fill the seats every Sunday morning. Maybe my perspective was wrong. Maybe God is glorified when his people rejoice in their cultural uniqueness as we serve the same God.

Maybe God’s people need to give themselves permission to be more like the bar hoppers and their Friday night churches.