Rev. Danny Lybarger is still at the bar, but this time it’s more than a ministry – it’s a church.
Lybarger came to Missouri to be pastor of The Gathering’s Bar Church in St. Louis. His next step in ministry was an appointment as associate pastor at Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles, where he started a ministry at a bar called Flights and Faith (see the October 2019 issue of The Missouri Methodists).
Last year marked a new season for Lybarger, with his wife having a baby (their third) in April, being newly ordained in June, and starting a new church a few months later.
“I had an appointment before the church had a name,” Lybarger said. “Being appointed to nothing is a little scary, but it’s also really exciting.”
The new church may have been nameless, but it had connections rooted in the Flights and Faith ministry that had been hosted at Good News Brewing. Dan Tripp and Matt Fair started Good News Brewing in O’Fallon four-and-a-half years ago. The business was an evolution of home brewing hobbies and a small missional group at their church. They did Christmas and Easter services at the bar but wanted to do more.
So, they put out the word that they were looking for a brew pastor. They kept hearing that Danny Lybarger was a pastor looking for a bar. Flights of Faith went well, and Lybarger carried the concept forward to The Well. While working with the Good News Brewing guys on Flights and Faith, Lybarger was also involved with the Easter service in 2021. Connection cards were passed out, with more than 30 names and contact info coming back. Two of those people ended up on the leadership team for the new church start, and the majority of them are attending church there regularly.
The church was launched at the Defiance location of Good News Brewing. Good News Brewing had bought the Defiance location, a former
barbeque restaurant, in 2019. That was not a good time to be starting a new business for most bars and restaurants. But it was for theirs. If Good News Brewing were any closer to the KATY trail, it would be blocking the path. Business skyrocketed because the pandemic had more people seeking recreation outside and working flexible schedules from home. Hence, they had time to take bike rides on the KATY Trail. While places in the city were required to close down, Defiance is well outside of the city and had no such restriction. The building’s configuration has glass walls that can be rolled up like garage doors. Unless it is quite cold, a couple of the doors are open to give the place an open-air feel. All the doors are open on nice days, and worship shifts to the deck outside, right next to the trail.
You couldn’t develop a better restaurant design for a virus outbreak.
“It sounds weird to say it, but from a business perspective, the pandemic was the best thing that could have happened to us,” Tripp said. “The KATY trail became a hotspot.”
In June, the launch team first met before Lybarger’s appointment was even official. The church had its first preview service on the first Sunday in August. It was more like a launch than a preview service, as 130 attended.
“People were hungry for a church,” Lybarger said.
As it came to be named, The Well had six more preview services before officially launching on December 5. Worship is on Sunday at 10 a.m. The bar/restaurant opens after church is over, around 11.
“People riding by on the trail may come fully off the trail and join us, or some will stop for a while to listen or sing along and sometimes stay for the whole service without leaving the trail,” Lybarger said. “Our space is one of our greatest evangelical tools.”
Many of the people attending are from O’Fallon or Wentzville, but there are some from the city and some from the immediate neighborhood.
“More people are living in and right around Defiance than people realize,” Lybarger said. “And people that live in this area are used to driving for a while to get to where they want to go.”
The outdoor flexibility ended up working well on the unlikely date of December 24, when the temperature was around 70 degrees for the Christmas Eve service. The two services totaled about 250 in attendance. The service fully used the indoor and outdoor space, with some people on the rooftop patio, giving the service a full but not too crowded feel.
“We’re counting down the days until we can get that kind of weather back,” Lybarger said.
The new church has already been engaged in community ministry. After a tornado struck nearby on December 10, people from the church were joined by other United Methodists from around the Missouri Conference to assist with cleanup. The Well decided to donate all of its Christmas Eve offering, which was more than $5,000, to tornado recovery in the community.
Lybarger participated in the Planters Academy in 2020 while on staff at Church of the Shepherd. He said participating in the Planters Academy was great for him for several reasons.
“I appreciate the extended friendships that were developed through the process and being able to build a support system,” he said. “Since this was my first time in ministry that I wasn’t part of a large church staff, that was super helpful.”
Beyond friendship, he gained a lot of valuable perspectives.
“I was able to bounce ideas off of a lot of different people as I refined my plans,” he said.
For the next steps, Lybarger wants to grow The Well to the size of an autonomous church, and he is looking to potentially launch a second site after Easter at one of Good News Brewing’s other five locations. He’s looking to find volunteers and equip them to lead, and he’s confident he’s in the right place.
“God is calling us to go after this region with the message of the gospel,” he said.