Last weekend I took a quick trip from Seattle to my hometown of Milwaukee, WI. My brother’s baby was turning one. Over 500 people came out to celebrate. There were live bands on a big stage, multiple food trucks and plenty of port-o-potties. And lots of beer.

A little over the top for a one year-old, don’t you think?

Maybe. But not if your baby is a brewery!

One year ago my brother Dan, along with David Dupee and brewmaster Andy Jones cofounded Good City Brewing in Milwaukee’s East Side neighborhood. And what a year it has been! Good City has already significantly increased production and distribution, expanded their taproom, won a national brewing championship and even managed to get their beer on the menu at a local ball park named after a beer industry behemoth. As the Chicago Tribune recently noted, Good City is at the forefront of a brewing renaissance in Milwaukee, a city put on the map by breweries like Miller, Pabst and Schlitz, and a place where the baseball team is named the Brewers.

Needless to say, the birthday celebration was a blast. But I also couldn’t help but notice that this startup brewery has a lot of wisdom to offer startup faith communities. So, as a way of saying “cheers” to my brother and his team, here are 5 things church plants can learn from Good City Brewing:

1. Remember to celebrate milestones.

As demonstrated by the birthday bash, Good City has a culture of celebrating milestones. They celebrated six months earlier too, with a special bottle release (Bourbon Barrel-Aged Density Imperial Stout – so delicious, but at 11.2% ABV be careful!).

If you’ve ever been involved in a startup, you know that there is always the next thing to do. It is nearly impossible not to be fixated on the future. As church planters look forward to adding more people to the team, launching a missional initiative, raising more funds or getting a new gathering space, it can be easy to forget the Spirit’s presence and activity. Pausing to celebrate the small and big ways that “thus far the LORD has helped us” builds reserves of gratitude and joy that help sustain faith communities when they encounter struggles and setbacks in the fickle future.

2. It’s all about the team.

There’s no “I” in team, but for Good City, there is an “IPA” in team… and a pilsner and a pale ale and a stout and a porter and so many other styles. And all of these delicious beers exist because Good City is team-driven. The brewery and taproom exist because the three cofounders each play to their strengths. And it is all thriving and growing because they’re committed to seeing and activating the gifts of each person they hire.

Sadly, many pastors approach church planting as a one-person show. It doesn’t help that seminaries spend too much time training pastors to be in their heads and develop their own skills rather than helping leaders learn how to see the gifts and capacities of others. In his book Creating a Missional Culture, JR Woodward offers a vision of what a team-led church can look like: it is all about equipping people to bring about healing in lives, communities and the world!

3. This is risky business.

Two of my favorite Good City beers are Risk IPA and Reward Double IPA. But for my brother and his cofounders, these aren’t just beer names, this is the story of their startup – and any startup for that matter. These cofounders left more certain and steady jobs and opportunities to create something that didn’t even exist. They raised money from investors, took out a big bank loan and put a lien on their homes. There were no guarantees.

The same goes for church planting. Lots of pastor types are interested in the idea of church planting, but when they see how risky it is many of them turn back towards the comfort of a faithfully tithing congregation (at least, for now). Similarly, countless followers of Jesus are intrigued by the idea of participating in a church plant, but when they realize the cost in terms of energy and time and relationship, they decide they would rather be an “attendee” at the large church down the street.

Your startup faith community might not make it to five years, or even a year. It might not look like your initial dream. But as the description for Reward Double IPA says, “The bigger the Risk, the greater the Reward.” There is something deeply rewarding and life-giving about living by risky faith, regardless of the outcome.

4. Know your context.

Indeed Good City’s more complex offerings are fantastic. Beer nerds and curious novices will not be disappointed. But, remember, Milwaukee was built on a much simpler beer – the Pilsner. So locals who come to Good City are often seeking a beer that tastes great and is less filling. Fully aware of this contextual craving, Good City created the Good City Pils. The crisp and clean Pils meets people where they’re at and honors Milwaukee’s brewing past.

If you’re cultivating a faith community in your neighborhood, have you taken the time to listen to the context? Have you listened to the churches and leaders that have gone before you? Or do you act like God was nowhere to be found until you arrived? For churches, listening to context is a critical immediate and ongoing practice.

5. Don't mess up the main thing.

It was fun to hear people at the party gush about how great Good City is. People are excited. Again and again they said, “the beer is really good.” Yeah, they’ve got great branding and a beautiful space and delicious food… and people might come for that. But the people will only come back if the beer is good. Good City got the main thing right and that’s why they have a bright future.

What about your church? Are you getting the main thing right? Yes, yes, “Jesus” is the main thing. But what I’m referring to is the church actually being a community of people who welcome difference, who share joys and struggles and dinner tables. Though the “church as event” mindset has dominated the church planting imagination for decades (and still does in many places), church planters are increasingly replacing the obsession with stages and seats with a commitment to build community. Not only is community a core expression of the good news, but it’s also a desperately needed gift to the accelerating loneliness of our culture.

There is much more Good City wisdom to share, but for now I’ll just offer Good City’s motto as a closing benediction as you try to remember these 5 lessons:

Seek the Good!


Also published on Medium.