bar church sean wrench

Bar Church Jacksonville

When I was a growing up as a kid my parents forced me to go to a church that made me feel like God was always mad at me. I constantly lived with this stigma that God was this cosmic cop in the sky ready to “law down the law” on me the second I did something wrong.

I lived constantly in a state of fear.

As I grew older and started on a journey to discover who God really was I discovered that all of that belief was so wrong and seriously misguided.

I believe that God loves each and every one of us unconditionally. Your past mistakes, or heck, even the current mistakes you are making do not disqualify you from experiencing unconditional love. 

Bar Church

Unfortunately a vast majority of churches today push people away from experiencing God because they have created what I call a perfectionism culture. In other words, if you follow our rules and believe how we believe than we will accept you.  If you don’t, please move on.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve talked to someone who told me they felt judged by “church people” I’d be a billionaire. I think it’s absolutely heartbreaking, because in my opinion the unconditional love of God is absolutely life changing.

So, we are on a mission. And that mission is to create an environment for all of those people that don’t want to go to a church, or don’t feel like they will be accepted in a church. We certainly don’t believe someone needs to “go” to a physical church to experience God, but our goal is to create an environment where every single person regardless of where they are in life know that they will be loved and accepted at all times, no matter what.

That’s love. That’s God.

I remember having a conversation with a guy in a bar one time. If I recall he was drinking an IPA and me a Nitro Milk Stout (I love those darn Milk Stouts). He happened to notice one of my tattoos and asked me if I was “religious.” The second anyone ever asks me that question I immediately get excited, because I love to share my perspective on what I believe is a radical difference between religion and God’s love. To me religion is full of rules, regulations and judgment. God’s love is unconditional.

“No sir”,  I replied, “I can’t stand religion, but I love God, and I know he loves me.” He looked at me with almost a look of wonder in his eyes. We engaged in conversation and I recall the moment the topic of church was brought up he immediately said to me, “I would never step foot in a church, because I’d burn up the second I walk in.”

I’d love to run into that guy again sometime, because you sir are exactly who we want at Bar Church.

The reason I started Bar Church is because I believe God wants us to reach all of the people that the church is 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 drink and some good conversation. 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?

A few months ago, 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.

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 (I’m somewhat joking of course lol).  To be honest, even now as we begin to launch our first Bar Church locations in Jacksonville, FL and Nashville TN we debated 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 world in a huge way. So where can you find Bar Church? Well, initially our two targeted locations are Jacksonville and Nashville, but rest assured we are only warming up. Some city names that have popped up are Chicago, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando and many many more. Eventually we want to see Bar Church spread throughout the world, in countries like Ireland, England, Greece, Italy and more. Our commitment is that Bar Church does not belong to us, but to the people of Jacksonville, Nashville and other future cities we launch in. 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, Nashville and eventually throughout the world.

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 the world. Their love for people is known around the entire world.”

That’s my  dream for Bar Church. I believe it’s God’s dream.

Oh, and if you like live music, Bar Church will have some of the most talented musicians in the country. This is most certainly not your grandmother’s church, earplugs may be required.

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? 

Many churches across America gauge their success by the number of conversions each week. How many people raised their hand this week. Our success will not be determined by conversions, but by how many peoples lives are changed because they come face to face with unconditional love, maybe for the first time in their lives. 

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. Nashville needs this church. Every city in America 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, I believe everyone will be talking about Bar Church. People will not be able to mistake that fact that every city we launch in becomes a focal point for the movement of Jesus. A Movement of love and hope. A movement of unconditional love.