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Pierre First UMC’s Pub Theology reaches new people: A Fresh Expression

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communication, Dakotas UMC

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Pub Theology is a ministry of First UMC in Pierre, S.D. reaching new people outside the walls of the church. Photo licensed from

On Thursday evenings in Pierre, South Dakota, people gather at a local pub to explore Jesus. This month, the group has been meeting at the St. Charles Lounge. 

“It is a chance for people who have been frustrated with church or have not felt comfortable coming into a church to have real-life conversations about faith and life,” said Rev. Jeff Lathrop, First United Methodist Church in Pierre, South Dakota

The official name is Pub Theology, not to be confused with Theology on Tap—a ministry of the Catholic denomination. 

“We are not focused on any denomination, but we call it Pub Theology to create an identity that people can remember,” said Lathrop. 

Pub Theology rotates around town. Each month, a different location is selected. Fliers are posted in public places and businesses. The radio station provides some advertising, and a Facebook group keeps people informed about the location, dates, and times. 

An evening at Pub Theology involves people gathering, checking in, and greeting each other. Folks order food and a beverage if they want. Then, the conversation is opened to anyone who has something in their heart. 

“Our conversations have included what do you do when you have a family member, co-worker, or close friend who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness? It is real-life conversations,” said Pastor Jeff. “Folks have shared their frustrations with the church at times of loss. People intend to be comforting at times of loss, but sometimes they are not. Statements like, ‘God just needed another angel in his choir,’ are not comforting. We are so imperfect in hard moments.”

Other topics range from job loss to politics. Pierre is home to the capital of South Dakota. Maintaining an inviting environment that is safe and comfortable is essential.

“We are in the capital. We try to keep political conversations from getting cantankerous. There are diverse beliefs present. Not everyone thinks alike,” said Pastor Jeff. “It is an open forum, and people talk about various topics.”

This fall, two of the people who attended regularly were the owners of the establishment people gathered at each week. They were grateful for the opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues not typically part of the formal church setting. 

“A comment was made that folks have never heard these things being talked about in church or with a pastor one-on-one,” shared Pastor Jeff.

A core group communicates through the Facebook group. Recommendations are made regarding location and topics for Pub Theology gatherings. Owners of establishments belong to the group and make recommendations, other than their establishment, for places to gather. 

The group typically gathers from 6:30-8 p.m. Sometimes, people must leave early or come late because of other responsibilities. 

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Rev. Jeff Lathrop initiated Pub Theology. Photo by jlynn studios.

“People come and go as needed. People have kids and need to leave early. We also have people stay until closing time,” said Pastor Jeff. “Sometimes the conversations are deep. There might be six of us in conversation until closing time.” 

People come from all walks of life: attorneys, bankers, businesspeople, and retired folks. “We have opened it up to everyone in the community,” said Pastor Jeff. “It started because the young adults in our congregation were looking for something outside of the church. I had tried this kind of thing when I was a youth and young adult pastor in Lincoln, Nebraska.”

About 10 to 12 people gather weekly—an increase from five to six people that came when Pub Theology started last spring. 

“I am hoping for some more growth as people get comfortable. Growth doesn’t necessarily happen fast. It has been organic,” Pastor Jeff said. 

One thought is to explore choosing a permanent location to see if that might help people feel comfortable with the setting. 

“We tend to bump into people at different locations—co-workers and friends. They ask us what this group is all about. Sometimes they sit and chat with us, stay the whole time, and sometimes move on,” said Pastor Jeff. 

Different leaders are stepping up to coordinate the gatherings. Pastor Jeff has been the initial coordinator and leader for the gatherings. 

“I have had people step in and lead the group. I can’t be there all the time. People who are gifted in leading and encouraging the conversation, keeping things centered,” said Pastor Jeff.

Lathrop aims to pass the baton off to others to grow the ministry. “Lay people should lead it. It is not something that is staff or pastor-driven. It is important to model and support people that lead then step out of the way,” Pastor Jeff shared.

Fresh Expressions is about sharing Jesus in new ways out in the community. “I have a member of our congregational care team thinking about leading devotionals at a care facility during coffee time. People in these types of places crave community and conversations. This congregational care team member hopes to start that in the new year,” Lathrop said. “It is a way to spread what we are doing in Pub Theology in a new setting. Inviting lay people to do this, who are gifted in various areas, empowering, and encouraging them is the next step we are taking.” 

Many lay people feel like they might be unable to lead or start a gathering in their community. Lathrop said that is just not true. “I know for a fact that lay people have passion and skills that need to be put into action for the work of God. Things will expand through them.”

Encouraging people to implement their ideas happens through one-on-one conversations, texts, and emails. 

“The Fresh Expressions movement is powerful and exciting. It is not about the pastor. It is about lay people going out and being part of the mission field,” said Pastor Jeff.

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Ways you can get involved in Fresh Expressions:

Share your Fresh Expression or Jesus story with us. We want to tell the stories of Fresh Expressions across the Dakotas-Minnesota Area! When your group is out in your community meeting new people, we’d love it if you’d record a 2–3-minute video (on your cell phone is fine, but record in horizontal orientation if you can). Here are some prompts for you... Where are you (your physical location), and what are you doing in your community today? What’s the fresh expression you’re creating? What’s your ultimate dream or prayer for it? What’s something you’ve learned in your fresh expressions journey that has stuck with you? When you’re done, upload your video to this Dropbox folder or text it to 605-770-8540.

Join the Dakotas-Minnesota Fresh Expressions Facebook group. If you haven’t already, join the Dakotas-Minnesota Fresh Expressions Facebook group for further conversation and ongoing inspiration as you journey to invite new people to Jesus.

Attend the national Fresh Expressions for United Methodists, Feb. 7-9, Charlotte, North Carolina. This event is an excellent opportunity for those interested in cultivating a fresh expression in their community. Bishop Lanette Plambeck will be there, too! Use discount code FXDKMN for $80 off your registration. Learn more and register

Join the monthly Fresh Expressions coaching calls. Each month, you and your Fresh Expressions team are encouraged to join Michael Beck for coaching and conversation as you begin this ministry. If you would like the Zoom link, please email


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