In 2004, Pastor Verlon Fosner was facing a crisis at his 90-year-old church. It was failing. He calculated the resources they had and what it cost to run the place. And then he gave the congregation an exact date that they were expected to die.
His people were shocked to hear an actual date of death, but it motivated them to fight back. They got on their knees and prayed. (Why do these kinds of stories always start that way?) They also found themselves desperate enough to follow their pastor’s wild idea to save the church, and Dinner Church was born. The idea is modeled on the Christian Agape Feast – worship and sharing around a dinner table. It not only saved the church, but it became a movement that has spread around the country.
A few years ago, I got to visit Verlon’s Dinner Church in Seattle, downstairs in the city’s famous Pike Market. In the cozy, dimly lit space, I watched homeless people, tourists, and disciples like me gather. We shared a meal, sang some songs, had conversations around the tables, and heard a short sermon. There were a lot of prayer circles going on throughout. “I could do this at my church!” I thought.
Dinner Church was well received in Kyle. As the pandemic dragged on, people kept asking when we could bring it back. I am excited to bring this format to Bethany for Lent. I’m also excited to invite some of our mission partners and try the genre of storytelling as a way to share God’s work among us. I hope it all takes off here, too.
I first met the Dinner Church guy, Verlon, at a workshop called Fresh Expressions, where I was blessed to learn about the creative ways people are doing church. Some are drawn to the Fresh Expressions movement by a desire to bring young and unchurched people into the building, but what I have found is that ALL of us need new ideas. One of Verlon’s cohorts, Michael Beck, does crazy things like hold church in tattoo parlors, dog parks, and Mexican restaurants near his Florida home base. As weird as all that is, Michael shows his heart for traditional worship in his book, Deep Roots, Wild Branches. In the book, he describes what he calls a “blended ecology,” a system of established, traditional churches working alongside new, experimental ventures so that they both gain energy from each other. I loved the book title and idea so much, I reached out and asked Michael if I could use the "Deep Roots, Wild Branches" slogan in Kyle. He was so supportive, he even gave me a shoutout on his Facebook feed and posted a picture of me in the T-shirt. I felt like a rock star.
As I often say, all of my best ideas are stolen, and so is Dinner Church, but God tends to make borrowed ideas into unique creations if you are willing to let the roots and branches grow.
We never did bring Dinner Church back at Kyle after the pandemic. Instead, we looked for where the Spirit was showing up and realized the community knew us because of our free food stand, the Blessing Box, one of our few available outreach avenues during lockdown. The missions chair said, “What we need is a good, old fashioned weenie roast!” So we set up outside and called the monthly event, “Rally Around the Blessing Box.” They have been running with it ever since.
I can’t wait to see how Bethany takes this little Lent experiment and makes it our own. The Spirit will show us how our roots and branches can grow deeper and wider.
You can learn about Dinner Church, Fresh Expressions, and Michael Beck at www.freshexpressions.com.