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Dinner Church – A simple Christian gathering that is accessible to seekers, explorers, and the somewhat curious
For people who might be hesitant to attend a formal expression of church held within a church building, Dinner Church features a familiar setting and trusted friends. It also offers an environment of simple hospitality and friendship, to which Christians may find easier to invite their unchurched or de-churched friends, neighbours, and colleagues. Finally, Dinner Church creates a context which encourages deeper bonds between those attending, as participants share in reading and discussing a passage of Scripture, praying for and with each other, and serving in their communities together.
- You and another one or two Christians decide to try the experiment of Dinner Church. First, you meet to pray together for a couple of weeks, asking God to guide your plans and to bless and multiply your efforts, so that new people can come to know Jesus. Your group decides together on a night that will work well for everyone, how often you want to meet (I suggest weekly or biweekly meetings, for the sake of continuity and depth of connection), and where you want to meet (usually a home).
- Your small group can then invite some others to join the gathering. Ideally you would aim for 6 to 10 people, depending on the size of your table, with a mix of Christians and a few people who you know well and who are not connected to any faith community. Again, before you start to invite people, ask God to direct the invitation process. Invitations can be quite personal and informal. For example, an invitation could sound like this:
- Don’t be discouraged if someone declines an invitation to Dinner Church, especially the first time you ask. Keep the option open by saying something like “No worries. When we get together again, I’ll let you know how it went. Maybe next time you’ll feel like joining in.”
- If someone accepts the invitation, ask them to let you know if they have any food allergies and if they’d like to contribute to the meal. (This can help people feel more a part of things right from the start.) Give them details about the location and start and end times, to help them plan ahead.
- Close to the date of Dinner Church, follow up with a phone call or text, letting them know you’re looking forward to seeing them. If it’s needed, offer them a ride.
- When getting ready for your first Dinner Church, remember to keep things simple. This is meant to feel more like a family meal than a formal dinner party. Different opinions and questions should be expected and encouraged. Hosts and leaders can guide the discussion while also being good listeners, recognizing that some guests may be just starting their faith journey. When you’re not sure how to respond to something someone says, there’s always, “That’s an interesting take on things.” This response lets the person know you appreciate them offering their opinion and so keeps the conversation open, without stopping you from offering your own view.
- If you’d like to try Dinner Church but worry that there might be some tough questions about the Scripture passage that you won’t be able to answer, relax. This is a discussion between friends, so you don’t have to provide an answer to every question. You just need to be yourself and say something like, “That’s a great question . . . and one I have no idea how to answer! But I’ll write it down and see if our priest/pastor is able to help us with it.”
- If you have a sense that people are still wary of gathering physically due to the pandemic, you could host an online gathering over Zoom (this would need to be shorter than an in-person Dinner Church, since most regular Zoom accounts only allow for a 45-minute meeting). An email or phone invitation could look like this:
“Hey, our church is trying an experiment called Dinner Church, and I wondered if you might be interested. I’m getting some people together to explore a passage from one of the first biographies of Jesus, but the pandemic still makes a physical gathering tricky for a lot of people. Would you be willing to join us for a dinner on Zoom? We plan on looking at one story from Jesus’s life and then talking about what it might mean in our lives today. I’d love it if you would join in the discussion. We might also talk about what’s going on in the world and offer up a prayer. I know eating in front of one another on Zoom is a bit weird, but right now this is the best I can manage. Would you like to join in?”
Some suggested elements to include as you begin to meet
- Gathering and greeting: everyone brings a contribution to the meal and gets seated.
- Dinner is served and leader #1 says a prayer of thanksgiving for the food prior to eating.
- Leader #1 reads aloud a Scripture passage.
To get you started, here are a few passages you could choose from:
- Luke 9:10–17 [Jesus feeds the five thousand]
- John 4:5–42 [Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman]
- John 3:1–21 [Jesus talks with Nicodemus, a religious leader]
- Matthew 22:1–14 [Jesus’s parable of the wedding feast]
- Luke 19:1–10 [ Jesus engages Zacchaeus the tax collector]
- Luke 10:25–37 [Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan]
- Luke 24:1–12 [The resurrection of Jesus]
- Guests eat dinner as discussion is led by leader #2:
- What words or phrases stand out for you in the passage?
- Was anything surprising, confusing, or encouraging?
- What do you think this passage tells us about Jesus?
- What are the connections you see between this story and life today?
- Given what the story teaches about Jesus, or about the kingdom of God, what do you think this could mean for people learning to follow Jesus?
- A short commentary on the Scripture reading could be read aloud by leader #3 to bring in a scholarly perspective. This could be from a commentary series such as N.T. Wright’s series “For Everyone”, or even a short reflection written by your pastor/priest.
- Guests share any challenges that they are facing, or things they’d like to pray about. They pray around the table, or write prayers and place them in a basket for someone else to read out loud. For example, what are the needs of the world and our own lives that we want to bring to God? “God, we lift to you the following needs we see around us and have heard about tonight…”
- Coffee, tea, other drinks, or dessert is served.
- People clear their places and assist with clean-up.
- Leaders mention the date for the next gathering of Dinner Church before the end of the evening.
Over time, as participants become more accustomed to Dinner Church, leaders could add other elements of Christian worship, fitting these around the core elements. These elements include: prayers of adoration or thanksgiving to start the meal; reading the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, or the Ten Commandments together; praying a prayer of confession followed by a proclamation/reminder of God’s forgiveness; discussing ways for the group to help meet particular needs in the neighbourhood; or reading the Grace (2 Cor. 13:14) to close the mealtime.
What is the goal of Dinner Church?
Dinner Church can be a vehicle through which Christians offer a simple expression of Christian gathering that allows the somewhat curious, explorers, and seekers to learn what Scripture teaches, how Christians pray, and how they serve their communities together. My hope is that Dinner Church gatherings will grow and multiply as more people become a part of them. Once a Dinner Church reaches 10 to 12 people, it should split and form two new gatherings.
In many cases, members of a Dinner Church will also be part of a larger gathering of Christians meeting regularly in a church building for worship. In communities that don’t have a church building, or where the building is no longer in regular use, Dinner Church may become the primary form of Christian meeting. Such Dinner Church gatherings would function more like cell churches, where cell church lay leaders are equipped by the clergy to lead their cell. In such settings pastors/priests may travel from cell to cell, to lead sacramental ministry (in denominations requiring this) and to encourage and support the leaders of each Dinner Church.
So go ahead and try this first experiment. Let’s see what God does with it in the lives of both the Christians and the non-Christians who gather for Dinner Church. Then, send us an email to share how it went!