A church in Orlando, Florida, is taking the idea of outreach and fellowship to a whole new level. The Castle Church is part brewery, part hang out area, and all church. An “experiment in Gospel,” Castle Church is the first craft brewery owned by a church.
“We’re a church, yes, but we’re a church that believes God can be found everywhere,” the church’s website states.
Castle Church Is One of a Kind
Castle Church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is led by Pastor Jared Witt and Aaron Schmalzle.
“If you look at the way the church is growing around the world, you see there’s a focus on discipleship rather than membership,” Schmalzle says in a video explaining the vision of the church. Schmalzle and Witt believe that while studies indicate the church—mainline denominations in particular—is declining, the church today is actually starting to look more like the early church we read about in Scripture. That is, while there may be fewer people attending churches these days, the movement of Christianity is still strong and discipleship is still happening, whether it’s happening inside or outside traditional church settings.
Castle Church, according to Witt, engages in “experiments in Gospel” to see how it can help people learn to “fit Jesus into everyday life.” Schmalzle explains it this way: “Why can’t the gospel of Jesus Christ come to people where they’re at, in their everyday lives, even if that’s on a barstool in a taproom?”
Which Came First, the Brewery or the Church?
The church started out as a home beer brewing project and “a quest to develop a recipe of Martin Luther’s favorite beer.” As the group honed its brewing skills, they noticed they had developed a genuine community. “Even though our quickly growing community was a mix of ‘churched’ and ‘unchurched’ types, we noticed that the setting was really conducive to having deeper conversations about life, prayer and religion,” Castle Church’s website explains.
After a capital raising campaign, the group was able to build a new brewery location, which was finished in 2017. The location includes a brewhouse, indoor beer garden and of course, a bar.
What Do Services Look Like at Castle Church?
Every Sunday, Castle Church meets at 11:11 am for “Beer Garden Communion”; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the church hosts a “low commitment” event called “Bible + Beer” where participants can read and meditate on Scripture. The church also hosts Hymns & Beer nights once a month…where participants drink beer and sing hymns.
In a blog post, Witt explains he is eager to help people grapple with issues of faith without having them feel as if they need to check their brains at the door. Witt’s Tuesday night Bible study is designed to be “part theological exploration, part prayer practice, part spiritual exercise, part Bible study.”
That spirit of welcoming people—all people—is reflected in the church’s theological beliefs. “For us, God isn’t the ‘thought police,’ constantly making sure that you’re holding the right religious ideas in your head or that you identify with the right denomination,” Witt explains.
Witt and Schmalzle are adamant about reaching people where they are, and where they want to hang out. While church attendance may be declining and traditional churches may struggle to connect with younger generations, Schmalzle says “people have not lost interest in doing the right things in their neighborhood, connecting with others in a meaningful way, and exploring their spirituality in an affirming environment.”
So…What Does Castle Church Brew?
Castle Church is a fully functioning brewery, brewing eight drafts all year round. The names of the brews are very, very Lutheran. Among the names: All Saints Einbecker Ale, Luther Lager, Here I Stand Stout, Means of Grace Brown Ale, and This Little Light German Pilsner.