There was quite a reaction to one of my recent blog posts about Fresh Expressions in Leicester, England, and how we need new ways of doing and being church today. I’ve had quite a lot of interest in what these new ways could look like. I’ve even been interviewed by radio stations around the world about it.
Whenever I’m asked what these new ways look like I always tell them about dinner churches, which I think is a really beautiful, simple, achievable way to start a new kind of congregation.
And I’m not alone, it turns out.
Leonard Sweet, writer, futurist, scholar, once said, “Whenever I’m asked, ‘What is God up to?’ my most common answer is, ‘Have you heard of the dinner church movement?’.”
So, what is dinner church? Well, it’s dinner. And church. Scrunched together. But there’s so much more to it than that. Here’s a few dinner churches from around the world to give you a little taste.
ST LYDIA’S, BROOKLYN
St Lydia’s was the original dinner church. They don’t only eat together, they prepare the meal together. When you arrive, you get given a job like stirring a pot or slicing veggies or setting the table. At St Lydia’s, they figure working together is an intrinsic part of the experience. It builds community and brings people closer to God.
Then, as you sit around a table, sharing a meal, you’re invited to explore scripture together, sing, and pray.
The liturgy at St. Lydia’s is based on worship from the second and third centuries, when Christians gathered for what they called “love feasts”, sacred shared meals with the Lord’s Supper at the center. They bless the meal with an early Eucharistic prayer from the Didache, a second century Christian text, and then a presider chants prayers, the congregation sings responsively, and during the meal they share the communion bread and wine with each other.
Stories are a big deal at this dinner church. They retell the story of Christ’s dying and rising, and in light of that they seek to uncover the daily dyings and risings that comprise our lives.
ROOT & BRANCH CHURCH, CHICAGO
Root & Branch Church is located in Chicago, Illinois. They meet regularly in a church sanctuary two Sundays each month, but on the second and fourth weekends they meet as a dinner church in various people’s homes, using a liturgy that includes prayers, readings, the Lord’s Supper, and a delicious meal prepared by volunteers.
Like they say, “It’s community building around our most basic needs: food and good company.”
I love their vision statement too, which is to support each other as they grow from strangers to neighbors, from consumers to creators, and from wanderers to wonderers. Very cool.
CHURCH WITHOUT WALLS, MILTON KEYNES
Church Without Walls is in Milton Keynes, about 50 miles north of London. They host a number of different services, but on the fourth Sunday of every month, they hold dinner church in a local school hall.
They share a simple meal together (jacket potatoes, pasta dish, pizza, etc.) over which they hear a short reflection on a Bible passage, some discussion, and prayer. They supply high chairs for little kids and some toys for them to play with, and the whole vibe is very informal and family-friendly.
Like they say, “From the very, very earliest time when the Church first began Christians have always gathered to share meals…so why not come and join us!”
BELLS DINNER CHURCH, CALOUNDRA
Bells Dinner Church meets every Sunday, at 5.00 pm at a local school in Caloundra on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast.
I first heard about them when a friend mentioned them to me. She’d seen that they use the acrostic BELLS and wondered if I’d had anything to do with them. It wasn’t a crazy assumption because I’d written a book, Surprise the World, which presented five habits for missional people, using BELLS as an acrostic (Bless other; Eat with others; Listen to the Spirit; Learn Christ; be Sent into the world).
Turns out, Bells Dinner Church might not have stolen my acrostic, but maybe they modified it. Theirs stands for Belong, Eat, Listen, Learn, Serve, which I think sounds great.
Bells Dinner Church meets, eats, learns together, and encourages each other to serve the world (or neighborhood) around them.
In Ireland there’s a really interesting dinner church called Thrive that’s designed as a “story and table gathering” for women. They meet monthly around food and storytelling in a safe environment where women can share freely and openly.
Thrive is part of Redeemer Central, a new church that meets in a beautiful and historic church building right in the heart of the city. While their regular services aren’t dinner churches, they do meet around tables in a cafe-style gathering.
DINNER CHURCH COLLECTIVE
In Seattle, they’ve taken dinner church next level, by launching a collective of ten gatherings around the city.
Started by Verlon and Melodee Foster, the Dinner Church Collective is a network for resourcing and supporting new forms of church across Seattle, and now around the world. Here’s how they describe dinner church:
“It is a practice that piqued the interest of non-Christians and Christians alike.
It is simple and affordable.
It was a practice Jesus used with his disciples.
It was a practice that the Church Fathers developed to reach and disciple believers across the ancient world.
A meal, music and message.”
I’m not proposing dinner church as the only way to do church, nor necessarily as the best way. It’s one of the ways Christians around the world are finding to do church in a fresh, new way.
You’ll need a table (or a few tables), some food, a basic liturgy, a welcoming spirit, lots of prayer and patience and grace, and a willingness to do life with a group of neighbors as you orient your lives around Jesus together.
Maybe God’s calling you to launch a dinner church too?