I’ll never forget the look on the faces of people five years ago when I told them I was going to start a church in a bar.
Half of the people I told thought it was the most amazing thing they’d ever heard of, and the other half were aghast with horror. It was mostly the “religious” folks that had their panties all up in bunch and, frankly, I didn’t really care. Mainly because the people I felt God wanted me to reach were all of the people they were ignoring: The people who, according to the Bible I read, Jesus spent the most of his time hanging out with; The people that would likely not step foot in a church for various reasons, but would go to a bar for a cold one and some socialization. And if there is a way we could lead them to meet a God who loves them unconditionally in a bar, dang it, I was going to do it.
Today when we think about church, most of us think of buildings and steeples, or people going in and out of a building once or twice a week. It’s become more of a routine than a life-changing event. We come, we go, we listen, we stand up, we sit down, we say a few prayers, and then we go home. And, let’s be honest, how many people really feel comfortable in most churches today? But what if church could be different?
My personal journey of faith has been a wild ride. I think if it were to be made into a movie it may look something like a few scenes out of the ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ “Harrowingly glorious” is a phrase that comes into mind.
Last night, I sat in a church in Jacksonville, FL and the pastor made the most beautiful statement that really surprised me: “If we think God is going to always use the same methods, we are always going to miss the miracle.” Sure, while I realize having a church in a bar is rather unconventional, I believe that’s just the point, and that’s where the miracle is going to take place.
I grew up with some pretty negative experiences of the church. Heck, I continue to have negative experiences with churches today. My experiences with the church were so negative that it drew me away from God for a long period in my life. I look back and realize that blaming God for stupid people is well, stupid. About eight years ago I went through a series of life experiences and God just made himself very real to me. I experienced first-hand a God who really loved me unconditionally, and it changed my life. I fell in love with Jesus and I wanted to tell everyone about it.
That’s when something very interesting happened. As I began telling people about my experience, I discovered that many of them had negative experiences with church as well, and just like me, they stopped going to church. I noticed a pattern, and that pattern was that many people’s feelings about God were connected to the church.
As I continued on my journey of faith, I personally encountered more and more negative experiences with the church, and I met more and more people who had experienced the same. I wondered how I could somehow introduce people to Jesus without looking through the church. But here’s the thing about the church, it was never our idea. It was Jesus’ idea. So the church itself isn’t a “bad” idea, but man has done what we often do so well: we messed it up. Badly.
When I started the first Bar Church five years ago, I wanted to do everything I could to separate the idea of Bar Church from the actual church. I didn’t even want to give it the name ‘church.’ I also didn’t want the title of Pastor, because to put ‘Pastor’ and ‘Church’ in the same sentence was using two negatively-associated words in a row and that was just awful (you know what I mean lol). To be honest, even now as we launch Bar Church Jax we debate over the name. But the bottom line is: the church is important to Jesus, and although there are many churches out there that have given the church a bad name, if it’s important to Jesus it’s important to us. We want to set a new precedent for what the church can be. We believe God is doing a new thing.
So yes, Bar Church is a church, but I can guarantee you it will be very different than any other church you’ve ever been too.
See, here’s the thing about church. We’ve become a group of people everywhere that go to church, but Jesus wanted us to become a group of people that are the church. There’s a huge difference.
We were never meant to do life alone, yet so many are. I know so many people who go to a church building every single week yet walk out feeling lost, alone and hurting. I think we all long for a sense of purpose, but unfortunately so many find that search so elusive. Sometimes we need to step into community before we can step into purpose.
Our dream is to bring together people from all walks of life and impact the city of Jacksonville, our nation and the world in a way that we could never do alone. Our commitment is that Bar Church does not belong to us, but to the people of Jacksonville. Somehow along the way we’ve confused the idea of church. We thought the church was here for only people who believe in exactly the way the church you attend believes.
Did you know that right now cities all across the country are re-zoning so they can prevent churches from entering into their community? Now, if you’re a standard church-goer, that probably upsets you. But perhaps the questions we need to ask are why don’t these cities think churches are vital to their community? What have we done wrong? Clearly we, as a church, whether we want to admit it or not we have done something wrong.
Bar Church’s mission? To redefine the church. To redefine the value of the church. We want to become a community of people who make everywhere a better place. Everyone gets better. Businesses get better, neighborhoods get better, people get better. The church has widely become known as being in opposition from those who don’t believe in Jesus. We believe those are the very people God has called to us serve and to love.
Five years ago in a small town in Upstate New York I had a dream. A dream that I believed would change the world. A mission birthed in that small town and now being re-birthed in Jacksonville, FL.
For years I’ve dreamt that a church existed where every single person felt welcome, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, etc. A place where unconditional love wasn’t just talked about from a stage, but it was really, truly lived out. A place that empowered people to focus more on what they do right rather than what they do wrong. A place that empowers and encourages them to make a difference in the world, and doesn’t worry about telling them what they are doing wrong, because who are we to judge? I look forward to the day when someone says, ”Hey, have you heard of Bar Church?” and the reply is, “Oh yeah, that’s the church that’s changing everything. Their faith and love is known around the world.” That’s my dream for Bar Church.
I was talking with Amy, one of our worship leaders, in the early stages of forming the Bar Church team and she says to me, “I was talking to one of my friends who is an atheist. They want to come to Bar Church.”
There’s a beautiful story tucked away in scripture where Jesus meets a woman at a well. Here’s what makes this story so unique. Culturally, they are from two radically different backgrounds. The Jews considered Samaritans “outcasts,” and they didn’t typically hang around one another. That doesn’t happen to sound familiar to you at all, does it? I think many people today feel like the church considers them an outcast. But Jesus just loved her. Unconditionally. She went back to her town and, scripture says, she brought the entire town to Jesus. Bar Church will be that well.
Who is welcome at Bar Church? Anyone, and I really mean anyone. What if an Atheist could come in here and know they are loved and welcomed regardless of their beliefs, and they meet Jesus and are forever changed?
What if someone who is Transgender or LGTBQ, who has been pushed away from their family and the church their entire life, could come meet Jesus and get to know a God who loves them unconditionally, and their life is FOREVER changed?
What if Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Muslims, Agnostics, even Christians come to Bar Church and find Jesus, and their lives are forever changed?
I believe if this church steps out in faith, God will do more than we could ever ask, think or imagine. Jacksonville needs this church.Florida needs this church. The world needs this church. The church needs a model for a new future, and we want to become that future.
One day down the road, everyone will be talking about what happened here in Jacksonville. People will not be able to mistake that fact that our city became a focal point for the movement of Jesus Christ. A Movement of love and hope. A movement of unconditional love.
Written by: Sean Wrench
Sean Wrench is the founder and CEO of Thrive Development Group headquartered in Baltimore, MD. Thrive Development currently buys and sells Real Estate in Baltimore MD; Jacksonville, FL; Los Angeles, CA; San Diego, CA; Fresno, CA; Cleveland, OH; and Detroit, MI. He is also the Vice President of Forthought Inc. a creative Marketing/Branding and Web Development Agency headquartered in South Florida. Sean is the Creator of the Thrive RE Wholesalers Academy, the Thrive Turn Key Real Estate Academy and has personally bought and sold over 200 properties in the last 3 years alone. He is the former CEO of Wrench Team Mortgage Group and is also passionate about fighting Human Trafficking. He also secretly wishes he was Arrow from the hit WB Show.