From Bill Easum
Keep in mind that Bar ministry isn’t for everyone. I do not recommend it unless it has something to do with your upbringing and you understand the bar crowd mindset. Also, know that it will take up to a year for you to be accepted and begin to see results.
From our advanced listserv
Pray before you go. As you are there. When you leave. I know God is there when I have a “Oh God help me” moment. It is then God is working and I am out of the way.
1). Make sure you plainly tell whom ever you are accountable to what you are doing.
2.) I would make sure I ordered coffee, the mug is unmistakeable. Sometimes I WILL accept a beer if I think it will help the person trust me — St. Paul said I am all things to all people.
3.) Make sure you aren’t an alcoholic or if you are you have a few years sobriety.
4.) Assess your gifts. If you aren’t gifted in accepting people where they are, have a need to judge or hold a moral line, etc. pass.
5.) Be very aware some of these people will be “messy” and make sure your church is ready for messy people. You will have to fight for them. You might have to go the the cross for them.
6). You will meet alot of people who far surpass anyone in your church in terms of relationship with Jesus. You will meet gays. You will meet people living with one another. You will meet wife beaters. You will be with people who want other people’s spouses. You may see your daughter in the bar doing the “beer movie”. Are you prepared not to judge? Can you tolerate hearing the “f-bomb”, cursing, fights, being hit on by both sexes, dirty jokes?
7.) They will smell a phoney a mile away. Don’t hand out flyers (most of the “unchurched” I took to the Passion took the plethora of flyers local churches were handing out and said “Oh look another advertisement for me to come to their church” — they were very clear the church wasn’t really interested in them it was a gimmick.
From one of our listservs
I’ve spent a lot of time in bars over the past four years, motivated just as you are by my desire to talk to people who are not “insiders” to my congregation’s life. I even got a sizable sabbatical grant to do it “full time” (!) in 2002. It has made a huge difference in my life and in my ministry, and if you’d like to hear all about it, I’d be happy to talk in detail about my techniques, learnings, etc. off line.
But for now, I’ll just say this: before I started, I spent about six months talking about how I was going to do this any day now. Then, I finally went, and the first night, I just walked to the bar, and stood outside it and prayed, and then walked home. It took a lot to walk in, and a lot more to get in the habit of initiating conversation. But all the anxiety and stress was worth it in the end.
A couple of quick pieces of advice which might help. First, I personally never do bar ministry alone. I know people who do, but I found it so much harder to initiate conversations when I was alone that I found it counter-productive. I could sit at the bar alone, and eavesdrop, but it was harder to really get into a conversation. I would suggest you go with another person, ANY other person. I personally have even occasionally paid people to go with me. You don’t have to ask a church member!
Second, if you are going alone, I would suggest you go around 5pm. In my experience, part of stepping into a different culture is learning the customs and traditions of that culture. I think there are “chattier” times at bars, and happy hour is one of them. Also, I personally like Tuesday night. I never do bar ministry after 9 pm because in my experience people are mostly too drunk at that point to have a decent conversation. And I avoid Friday and Saturday nights because in the bars I frequent things are louder and more of a pick up scene.
Third, if I were you, I would make the bar tender my #1 priority. Become a “regular” by coming in every Tuesday and Friday at 5 and ordering a coke and fries (or eat your dinner at the bar if they serve food). I personally order a beer and don’t feel bad about it. Stay for 20-30 minutes, and make it your practice to be unusually interested in the bar tender. Be totally honest about who you are and why you’re there, even about you discomfort. Be real, and ask for that person to be your tour guide, your interpreter in a different culture. The bartender, if he’s any good at all, will also then look out for you if you ever get in trouble.
Part of your anxiety is justified. I don’t know your bar, but I know the ones I attend, and I always go with my eyes and ears open, both for opportunity and for trouble. The more you can set up this situation so that you are as comfortable as possible, the more likely you’ll have a decent experience.
Third, along with the good advice I would add the need to evaluate and debrief with some form of team or cell group. If you do this, you will discover all kinds of things, make all kinds of mistakes, and often not even know for sure if anything good is coming of it … and you need to be able to debrief with a cell group of friends who share your heartburst. You might even find that such a cell group (triad?) might actually separate and go to different places … but then reunite on a different evening to share, evaluate, and critique one another.