Last week, Shannon asked this question about our gathered life as churches: “What things do we need to rethink and reframe to move into our particular local mission fields to be able to share the life giving way of Jesus and God’s kingdom Shalom?”
Recently, Chris Morton at Missio Alliance posted an article posing some ideas of how to begin answering that question. We’ll be sharing those ideas here, as well as adding in some of our thoughts from the CBWC perspective, and from those in Canada who might be attempting similar reframings. Thanks to Missio for sharing these ideas with us!
Four Models of Church that are Thriving in Modern America: 1. Dinner Church
Inspired by Jesus’ table practices, the writings of Origen and the Agape Feasts of the second and third centuries, there is nothing very “new” about Dinner Church. This model, seemingly forgotten to history, has found a new life in the hyper-secularized city of Seattle.
In his book Dinner Church: Building Bridges by Breaking Bread, Verlon Fosner tells the story of how his traditional Pentecostal Church went from dying of attrition to being reborn as a network of 12 (and counting) community dinners. These communities are aimed at those who likely would never come to a Sunday gathering, either because of work schedules or the cultural, and often socioeconomic, distance.
These are generally located in what he refers to as “sore neighborhoods,” usually made up of “the lower third,” or the third of the population that earns below a middle-class income. They meet in community centers and other common gathering places.
They also noticed that the dinner church approach is often appealing to isolated people, such as people who have divorced and are separated from their families, as well as “humanitarians”—people who are passionate about serving those in need but do not (yet) identify with Jesus.
Not only do dinner churches reach different people, but compared to traditional approaches to church planting, they’re cheap! According to Fosner, one dinner church is being opened a week. Non-staffing expenses (food and rent) generally run about $1000/month.
Dinner Church is inspired by Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” As Fosner says,”The only question remaining is, ‘Who is going to set his table?’” Could it be that setting a table for sinners, seculars, and strangers to have dinner with Jesus might be one of the great callings of the church? What if when Jesus was telling Peter to “feed his sheep,” he wasn’t speaking metaphorically, but was actually directing him to a physical table?”
Connect with Dinner Church Collective:
We’ve seen similar dinner church initiatives within the CBWC family. Chuck Harper and FBC Vernon host Vernon Street Church, and every second week, Makarios Evangelical in New Westminster hosts a dinner for the international students at Douglas College as part of their church gatherings on Saturday evenings.
What both groups have in common with the Dinner Church Collective in Seattle is the desire to reach into the “blue ocean”—to find a way to reach those who are not likely to attend a Sunday service and draw them into their church family. Are there those in your local mission field who would find dinner church a welcoming space? What could this mean for your community? Share your thoughts and ideas with us!