Sunday Morning Quarterbacking: What might churches learn from craft breweries?

Let’s start with the truth.

I’m an imperfect lifelong Methodist.

For the last ten years, I have worked for my church.

And, yes, I drink beer.

Historically, churches and alcohol have clashed.

But during the last two years, both craft breweries and churches have been in quite a tussle with COVID-19.

This pesky pandemic forced craft brewers and churches to quickly rethink how to reach their public. In each environment, what were once facilities alive with people seven days a week became empty buildings.

For churches, this meant offering worship and other programming on-line. To do this, churches needed to have invested in a technology infrastructure that would allow them to broadcast virtually.

Craft brewers had to figure out how to safely offer their product to the public. This required a shift in marketing strategies and making sure new options for selling beer complied with state codes.

Marketing and communication specialists for the brewers established a process for on-line orders including pickup and delivery. With pickup and delivery, customers were expected to comply with health protocols. This quick adjustment in distribution helped to sustain brewers during the pandemic.

Additionally, churches learned if they offered a quality on-line worship service, there was sustainable buy-in from existing members in their congregations. But unexpectedly, churches also picked up viewers beyond their usual community boundaries.

During the last five years, Scott’s Addition in Richmond, Virginia has exploded in growth. This former warehouse and industrial district has experienced a rebirth. Craft brewers have led the way in converting these old buildings into exciting new facilities.

On a weekday afternoon, as some restrictions from the pandemic were slowly being lifted, I met my church friend, Art Utley, at Ardent Craft Ales in Scott’s Addition.

That afternoon, Art and I were going to talk about pending transitions at our church over a beer. While studying the beer menu for the day, one of the brewers, William Poole, came out from the brewery. William and our son had been classmates in high school.

Whenever I see William at Ardent, I always have beer questions for him. This afternoon was no different.

Amazingly, during the pandemic, Ardent had released a new beer every week. I was curious about the timing of these releases and what was taking place behind the scenes to launch the beers.

William explained that each new beer required three months of planning. This included fine tuning a recipe, securing the required ingredients, coordinating graphic designs for the labeling, and marketing the release.

Advanced planning is critical for any organization. Yet, I wonder how churches might benefit from this proactive process?

For example, if on-line worship services are attracting new viewers, then churches must be planning ways to develop additional programs. Craft brewers are not one dimensional in their offerings of beers. Churches need to push beyond their one dimensional template by asking what more could they offer to capture the wide range of interests in a congregation?

Another interesting piece about the work of craft brewers is their capacity to communicate and share with each other.

William explained how he had a particular strain of yeast remaining from a recent brewing session. He did not want to waste the extra yeast. Because of the camaraderie among local brewers, William was able to share the yeast.

As churches begin to emerge from the pandemic, how might they benefit from this sharing and camaraderie attitude in communicating with other churches?

On April 7, 2022, the Brewers Association, who represents small and independent craft brewers in America, revealed 8% growth in 2021 by these breweries.

Mainline denominations in America would be envious of this growth, and also curious about how it was attained.

Writing in the Christian Citizen in 2021, Steven D. Martin makes some interesting points about how churches might grow. One point by Martin caught my attention: “Churches who produce daily content will move ahead of those who do not.”

At the very least, the brewers at Ardent were producing weekly content with a new beer release. With these releases, Ardent took some significant risks in a pandemic environment.

From my church work, I sense churches struggle with change and risk taking.

But, I also feel churches could potentially reinvent themselves by embracing change and taking some risks. Ardent took risks that mirrored Mr. Martin’s point. Why can’t churches?

Truthfully, the history of the church and breweries is grounded in risk taking.

Taking those risks helped to sustained Ardent in a difficult environment.

If the church expects to push out of its difficult environment, I hope church leaders will reach out beyond the walls of the church to their local craft brewer.

I sense church leaders will be surprised by what they learn from craft brewers.

Red Oak a North Carolina craft brewery Photo by Bill Pike

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