Dinner Church, anyone?

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.

 

THRIVE, BELFAST

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.”

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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?

 

 

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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22 thoughts on “Dinner Church, anyone?

  1. Read SUBVERSIVE MEALS, which lays out the biblical, theological, and historical foundation for meal-oriented worship. It is the book that launched the movement.

  2. This has been done for a very long time in small group contexts. The only new spin on this fad is the larger scale, although some very traditional churches have done this for a very long time in a Sunday evening or Wednesday evening format.

    I believe it can be a vehicle for enhancing community, but is not really anything new.

    1. Of course, church meals aren’t new. But the idea that the meal IS church is a pretty fresh idea. Referring to it as a “fad” sounds dismissive.

    2. Your post is correct but in many churches it IS new in its emphasis on reaching out to the community and in use of liturgy and serving of the Eucharist. For many church’s this is an exciting way of serving community members who do not find meaning in more formal church settings. Next month our tiny community church is putting on a dinner service in a pole barn beside a motel that rents by the week and has many residents who live below the poverty line. It will be at no cost and there will be no pressure to join our church or any other. We are just bringing the good news and the bread/cup to people who do not usually hear and participate in that. The owner says he is certain most of his residents will come – for the free food if nothing else. We are excited about it.

      1. Sounds beautiful, Ron.

  3. Great idea Jim Rayburn who began Young lIfe said once ” there must be ten thousand ways to do church we have tried three”

  4. JIm Rayburn said” there must be ten thousand ways to do church we have tried three. “

  5. It seems like Jesus did Church this way.

    1. Something similar, I’m sure. The Feeding of the Five Thousand comes to mind. And Jesus visited people’s houses, too.

  6. Love this. Thanks for article, Mike!

  7. If anyone knows this style of church in Austin Tx plz share.

  8. This reminded me of during my time at college, the church on campus would let my friends and me use their kitchen for dinner on Sunday evenings.
    Those were the best times.
    On an unrelated note, Mike, I found this video on YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsmjUz6n18c (Michael Frost – Advancing The Gospel In A Post-Christian Context).
    It is good, but I was delighted at 15:10 in the video you mention Watership Down.
    I love that book!
    Though it’s hard to describe.
    And I never made the correlation between Fiver being messianic and the rabbits being exiles like the Babaloyian exiles, but they are!

  9. would really be interested in investigating this more for our church. Great to have some idea as to how this comes together.

  10. Here’s an interview with the leaders of the Dinner Church Collective for anyone who’s interested in launching something similar.

    https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2019/october-web-exclusives/these-churches-trade-pews-and-pulpits-for-dinner-tables.html

  11. One unreached, unchurched group here in North America are those who have adopted a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Are you aware of any church or group that has endeavored to reach this population segment with a dinner church targeted at people who eat a plant-based diet?

    1. Oh my! What a great idea!

  12. Thanks for sharing the names of some churches exploring this model. My wife and I launched a dinner church in Dec 2018. We meet every Sunday evening for a meal, worship, teaching, and prayer. I’ll look into these others doing it and see how we can learn from them. Thanks again!

  13. Well hello! New to the tribe having been introduced by a Facebook Aussie friend and reading everything posted about “Dinner Church” I’m desperate to understand the interest in such things as liturgy and “lectionary”

    We want very much to keep our grand daughter in the Lutherean school she is. For thoughtful preaching we’ve heard would attend but cant’t choke down the liturgical worship.

    It seems to me that structured worship removes the free wheeling forensic sorts of things that go on in a format such as Mike Frost blogging.

  14. We’ve been facilitating dinner church called Eat Pray Love in a blighted community in Southwest Florida since 2016 and have had an incredible journey. We have seen lonely people find friendship, community and purpose. We have seen lost people come into relationship with Jesus, and we’ve seen broken lives transformed. Dinner church is a beautiful thing—especially for the nones and dones of this world who dwell in the neighborhoods that nobody else wants or sees.

    1. Awesome!!

  15. No, this is not a ‘fad’. Rural traditional congregations, where I have spent most of my ministry are famous for their hospitality, but very few have ever made the connection between food and drink
    and hospitality being ‘church’. I see this approach as opening windows into our local communities because for them, this is so different and challenges coventional ideas of what faith is all about.

  16. Yes, we do successfully Dinner Church also in Switzerland!

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