Jared Witt - July 23, 2018
A friend of mine recently told me about his decision to leave the massive congregation he had attended shortly after moving here to Orlando.
He had spent his whole life in megachurches, and to that point, he had been taught that bigger is always better and that growth equals success. But in his late twenties, on the heels of a career move, which had taken him several states away from family and friends, his own feelings of loneliness and isolation led him to start asking some more serious-minded questions about the purpose of church. Is the point really just to collect as many warm bodies in the auditorium as possible? For what? Should I be getting to know some of these people around me better than just a nod on Sunday morning?
Disclaimer: there are megachurches that do a very good job of finding ways to put people into meaningful relationships. Sometimes they’re even better at it than much smaller operations. But this one wasn’t.
I’m reminded of a recent survey of twenty-somethings, which essentially asked the same question over and over but re-worded it from a slightly different angle each time. The essence of the question was always “how many friends do you have?”
What’s interesting is that, when it was framed in terms of low commitment, lifestyle type activities—How many people can you contact if you want to go out on a Friday night? How many would join a co-ed sports team if you started one? Etc.—this group reported a high number of relationships rivaling any numbers we might expect from older generations. However, when it was framed in terms of more intimate and high commitment type life events—how many friends do you have who would fly with you to your grandmother’s funeral? How many friends do you have whom you would call for a visit if you were hospitalized for several nights? How many can you call if your car breaks down?—then the numbers dropped off precipitously, with many answering as low as zero.
So, at risk of placing a value judgment on the data, twenty-somethings report many friendships but few deep and sustaining ones. That is, the bedrock depth beneath which those friendships are not willing to go appears to be pretty shallow.
The decisive moment for my friend to leave his megachurch came during a worship service, when the pastor was pep-talking an upcoming building expansion to facilitate more growth. The tagline used to hype the campaign was “If a little _______ Church is good, then more ______ Church is better” or something like that.
Put aside for the moment that the tagline was essentially the addict's mantra. The real head scratcher came after a brief lapse in his normal rah-rah, hype man persona, when the pastor (to his credit) actually acknowledged that there is a tension between breadth and depth. But then, as one recovering his wits and remembering where he is, he said from the pulpit, "When it comes to reaching people, I would honestly rather dig six one foot holes than one six foot hole.”
Unsure if it was a simple mistake or if he was actually aware of his topsy-turvy botching of the old Zen Buddhist analogy for spiritual learning—“a man who seeks water does not dig six one foot wells but one six foot well"—my buddy’s initial response was “Did he really just say that?” He later confirmed via online recording both the line and the fact that he and his church’s leadership were not on the same page as far as what makes church worthwhile.
When we say that we are developing Castle Church as a large community of small communities, this is exactly what we are seeking to address. And the uniqueness of our model as a “tent-making” brewery allows us to take this ethic of small community beyond just “small group” programs in an otherwise large and imposing institution but allows us to build it into everything from the physical layout of the space to the types of events and activities we do together.
Wherever this road leads, we plan on never forgetting where we came from: a small, unlikely family of beer enthusiasts and Jesus nerds cramming into a bunch of camping chairs in Aaron’s driveway. He would brew batches in our little pilot system of pilfered and otherwise Frankenstein-ed bits and pieces, while the rest of us sang, laughed, talked beer, and yes, sometimes even prayed together. And this original personality will always be visible, no matter our size.
The physical layout of our taprooms will always lend themselves to relationships that go deeper, not wider. Never will you feel like you’re in a large anonymity encouraging auditorium. And the fact that we are an all the time third space as opposed to a building that lies unused six days a week will mean there is more opportunity for relationships to develop informally and organically, not just in the context of a certain event.
But more importantly than all of that, from the early days in Aaron’s garage, our little family has valued come-as-you-are and say-what-you-mean authenticity over style and appearances. And there is an openness to this group that you don’t find everywhere. We say every week that our table is actually Jesus’ table. And if Jesus would never turn anyone away from his table, then it's not for us to do so either. And Jesus’ table pulls together people who may not necessarily find each other in any other cultural niche, under any other circumstances. We pride ourselves on being a hodgepodge with no particular caste or "type."
None of this guarantees deeper relationships. You still have to put the effort in. But if there is one place that can facilitate them, we believe this is it.
Cheers and Peace,
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.