First Third Conversations

The Craft Ministry Revolution

By Derek Tronsgard

A funny thing happened this fall.  My wife and I were on our way to the Minnesota Golden Gophers homecoming football game against Purdue.  We had parked our car in the street several blocks away and had to walk right through the main row of fraternity houses to get to the stadium.

As we walked down frat row it was pretty obvious that the college kids were celebrating homecoming weekend with gusto.  It was 10:30 in the morning, but there were young kids out on their lawns – grilling brats, playing lawn games, and, of course, drinking beer. 

And while many institutions are seeing the loss of tradition, one pocket that seems immune is college football.  You'll find beer and brats before any college football game today.  It was the same when I was in college, when my parents were in college, and even when their parents were in college.

And while the pre-gaming itself hasn't changed much, something else has.  While we walked down frat row, beer bottles and cans littered the grass – only they weren't the normal beers you'd associate with college kids.  Instead of Budweiser and Coors and Busch Light the lawns were littered with Summit and Surly and Sierra Nevada.  Instead of the yellow fizzy stuff, the beer bottles on the lawns that morning were stouts and pale ales and IPAs, and German hefeweizen.

And it wasn't just one frat house.  It was all of them.  Sure, Keystone Light and the regular suspects were there, too, but the amount of craft and import beer in the hands of the college kids was just as prevalent as the domestics.

This points to something already occurring.  This marks a huge shift in the beer.  Industry experts will tell you that sales of craft beers are growing steadily, gaining on Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors.  And much of the growth is coming from the youngest section of beer drinkers – 21-40 year olds.[1]

Big market beers like Budweiser made their fortunes in the 20th century through mass production, consistency, and uniformity.  A Budweiser in San Francisco tastes exactly like a Budweiser in Dublin.  Budweiser made billions by being the Model-T of malted barley.  It was a beer made on an assembly line for the industrial age.

But as the Industrial Age has given way to the Information Age. Choice has become more important to consumers.  Selection and uniqueness is now valued as highly as consistency and uniformity. And so these once-niche craft beer styles have found millions of adoring fans in pockets of people all over the world.

These trends away from the assembly line and towards choice and local flavor have had a huge impact on the beer industry.  But I think they're actually a micro-chasm of the change we're seeing in culture at large.  And this change is affecting everyone – including the Church.

In the 1950s, much of mainline Christianity was like Budweiser.  You could go to a Lutheran Church in San Francisco and a Lutheran Church in New York and get a very similar experience. Same flavor. Same format. Same feel.  Any given church on any given Sunday would use the same hymnal, sing the same hymns, and read the same Scripture lessons.

But in the post-industrial craft-beer world, the assembly line ministry model isn't as effective.  People expect choice.  They expect different flavors.  They expect an experience suited towards their individual needs.  They expect a relationship. 

So what does this mean for us in ministry?  What the heck are we supposed to do?

If you ask me, it's time that we stop brewing Budweiser ministries and start the Craft Ministry Revolution.  Here's a starting recipe...

1) Go for choice and lots of it.  Before there were two: Bud and Bud Light.  Microbrews, on the other hand, have all sorts of flavors and varieties.  The same can be true with ministry.  Rather than offering one or two choices, blow it up to bits!  Offer multiple ways to people on multiple levels to engage in the life of Christ.  Give people choices.  Sure, your numbers may be smaller, but you know that the ones joining you in ministry are getting a better experience because of it.

2) Go for flavor.  Budweiser made its millions by trying to appeal to the most people possible. The result was a very drinkable yet not very flavorful beer.  The same is true for assembly-line ministry.  What would happen if we stopped trying to be all things for all people and focused on the people God has put before us?  What if we sought after the boldness of the Gospel rather than trying to make our ministries, mission, and message easier to swallow?  Would people recoil and leave?  Or would that super-intense Double IPA Gospel speak to their soul in a way that the Budweiser Church never could?

3) Go for richness.  One of the things craft beer lovers love the most is the richness of styles and flavor.  There's something you get from a good stout or porter that is like a slice of Heaven to beer nerds.  And it all comes from the rich aroma and flavor of malt and hops.   The same is true for ministry.  Right now there is a theological revolution taking place – especially in the field of youth ministry.  No longer are we about lock-ins and Chubby Bunny.  Places like Luther Seminary and Fuller are on the forefront of training a new kind of youth minister – one who is deeply rich theologically.  

4) Go local.  Craft Beers often are associated with their own community.  Micro-breweries are popping up in almost every city in America.  And each of these aren't focused on selling their beer in New York or in Dublin.  Instead, they're focused on the community in front of them.  Beer is missional, and ministry should be, too.  We should be laser-focused on our own community, our own people, and what God is up to right in our midst.  The Craft Minister thinks, speaks, and lives local.

The beer nerd and the church nerd (sometimes the same person!) are faced with the same challenges and the same opportunities.

Thirsty people are out there.  God is up to something.  The Spirit's moving.  The Gospel has never tasted this good.  The Craft Ministry Revolution happening before our eyes.  Are you ready to brew?

[1]    Read more about it here:

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Derek Tronsgard is the Pastor of Youth and Family Ministry at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Mound, MN where he lives with his wife and Golden Retriever.  He is also a semi-pro nerd who loves fantasy sports and comic books.  You can follow him on Twitter (@derektronsgard).

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