For the past six years or so, I’ve convened a Theology Pub in Toronto. It all began with a post that expressed a desire to get together with others to eat and discuss theology. I hoped that this group would be open but orthodox, and that our discussions would drive us to mission.
Theology Pub is relatively easy. I don’t work at it a lot; I convene and organize it a little, and it just seems to happen. It’s also enjoyable. It combines two things I really love: theology and getting a network of people together who want to learn.
I’m occasionally asked by others what advice I’d have for others who want to start a pub. Here, from my experience, is what’s worked for us:
Know the purpose. Our pub is a meeting to discuss a theological topic, and it’s primarily geared to Christians across the evangelical spectrum. I keep pointing back to the original post when people ask what it’s about. Clarity about our purpose has helped a lot.
Find a good location. We try to find a central location close to the subway line. We’ve experimented with a few locations. It also helps if you can find a relatively quiet location, which is harder than it seems. Some pubs have a room that you can rent, although they usually come with a minimum charge.
Invite great guest speakers. I’ve been amazed at the quality of speakers we’ve been able to invite. We pay nothing; we pass the hat and cover the cost of their meals and drinks. I’ve found that many speakers are open to coming because they are so passionate about their message. It never hurts to ask. Ask around for ideas; there are probably some great speakers in your area that you don’t even know about.
Mix it up. We’ve had theologians, pastors, atheists, activists, journalists, and more. The variety helps to keep things fresh.
Allow room for discussion. We follow the same format. We eat for the first hour. The speaker gives a 15-20 minute talk. We then spend about an hour in discussion. The discussion is often the most profitable part of the evening, especially if the talk was a good one. Leave plenty of time for this, and don’t allow one or two guests to monopolize it.
Let it grow. The pub has grown over time through word of mouth. The numbers vary depending on the speaker and the topic, but there’s no doubt that our numbers have grown over the years.
Communicate clearly. We use Mailchimp and Facebook to get the word out, and Eventbrite to manage who’s attending. It’s important to get the word out about the pub a few weeks in advance of the meeting.
Don’t work too hard. This has been key for me. I don’t have time to sweat another thing in my life. I’ve decided to just enjoy the pub rather than try to make it happen. Ironically, it seems to work better this way.
If you’re in Toronto, you’re invited to join us at our next Theology Pub on June 2. If you’re not in Toronto, I’d encourage you to look for one in your area. If there isn’t one, you may want to start one yourself.