Becky Lahna has used a variety of creative ways to engage with unbelievers, including joining the local Newcomers Club and a local wine club. This has enabled her to build relationships with hundreds of unchurched people in Santa Barbara.
Culturally speaking, Santa Barbara is a place where people work to live, making Friday Happy Hour an essential rhythm of the week. So I’ve embraced the Apostle Paul’s principle of becoming all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9:22). For me, a typical Friday involves cozying up to the bar at my favorite wine tasting room with a couple of friends, sipping on Cabs or Pinots. But drinks are not cheap! Most of my friends have a significant amount of disposable income and don’t even think about buying several rounds of top shelf cocktails and reserve wines. Such is not the case for a church planter on a budget!
Here’s where the wine club comes in: I joined one months ago because I liked their wine and loved that I could bring three people in at any time for free tastings. I’ve been regularly bringing friends ever since—so regularly, in fact, that the people who work there all know me. While recognizing and being sensitive to the reality that some people struggle with abusing alcohol, joining a wine club has, for me, been one of the most effective strategies for connecting with the unchurched.
“So what do you do, again?” the bartender asks as he pours our wine. “I’m a pastor,” I say. Eyebrows raised, he’s open-mouthed and speechless. It appears that words are being formed but nothing comes out. I get this a lot. “Pastor” is not the response he or others expect. I like that. It’s intentional. It’s often at this point that my wine tasting companions, in a show of solidarity with the pourer, say something like, “She’s the only wine drinking pastor we know, too!”
Photo by Jp Valery
As I’ve come to discover about my context, there’s something disarming about a pastor who takes people out for wine tasting. I wouldn’t have known that to be true until I moved here and did some cultural exegesis. I tried to listen to the city and discover the rhythms and rituals that people practice. In a city with such a high population of “ never churched people,” it is likely also true that there is a high population of people who have never been in relationship with a religious professional. he fact that I belong to a wine club and drink wine is a bit of shock to many of my friends. This one aspect of my life has opened up conversations and built relational trust. My friends have shared that their experience has often been that religious people, especially religious leaders, look down on the consumption of alcohol and, what is more, would not associate with them because they aren’t religious. So when they perceive me as different, when I break their paradigm of “religious people,” it often opens up conversations. It’s a way to challenge their perception of Christ-followers as well as practice hospitality.
When I read the Gospels, I am struck by the people with whom Jesus chooses to associate and spend time with. It wasn’t the religious people. He spent time with tax collectors and sinners, and ate and drank with them so much that he was called a glutton and a drunkard (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). He turned water into wine to keep the wedding festivities going in Cana (John 2:1–12). So it sure seems like Happy Hour is something Jesus would have done. It should come as no surprise that this wine tasting room has been the place of some of the most profound and deep spiritual conversations I have had during my time in Santa Barbara.
For my 40th birthday, I held a party for my Santa Barbara community. It was an open mic party with 75 friends at the pub a block from my apartment. During the open mic time, a friend wrote and sang a song. Here’s the first verse:
She’s a leader, connector, a girl with a plan
Builds a church with a glass of cabernet in her hand
Yo, Kickin' out the status quo
‘Cause she’s the only lady pastor I know
And that’s cool, that’s real, she’s one hell of a deal
She’s Becky, yo, and she’s keeping it real
These lyrics portray the way I have sought to embody the gospel in Santa Barbara. I sincerely desire for my friends to encounter Jesus, and I hope that that is happening through wine clubs and happy hours and relationships. Becky Lahna is planting Goodland Church in Santa Barbara, California, one of the most unchurched cities in the country. She previously was on staff with InterVarsity in New England, planting campus chapters. She’s an ENFP with J tendencies who lives life fueled by caffeine.