Jesus. The Gospel. Evangelism. Reaching the lost. Helping the poor. Missional churches. The Great Commission. All good terms and ideas. All things we know we care about, but if we’re honest, most of us are experiencing a gap between our best intentions and whether our lives and ministries are actually effective in these needed initiatives.
I’ve desired to make a difference and reach others for Jesus my whole Christian life and have served in many church roles over many years. But I never understood how to really reach and spend time with the lost as Jesus would until launching a Dinner Church.
A Foodie in a Sanitized Environment
When we started discussing the Dinner Church idea in our church, I’d never heard of it. I thought it would be cool because I am a passionate foodie and wanted to start having community dinners as a way of reaching people. Turns out it would change me in the ways I most needed to be changed. God has completely transformed my heart and my focus. I had no idea. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t dream this up. Jesus dreamed it up when he spent his time with sinners around the table and then told his disciples to do the same.
Somewhere within, I cared about reaching the lost. Somewhere within I knew I had a call on my life. But I struggled to understand what I could or should do. How do we reach the people right in our neighborhood who are desperate for the gospel but aren’t going to be joining us on Sunday anytime soon?
I had to confront my own selfishness and let God change me so I could wholeheartedly embrace the theology and spirit of the Jesus table. My heart had not yet broken for the people living so close to our church, but who are in a completely different world than my happy and sanitized environment. When I started sitting down at the table and spending real time with them, God began to teach me His heart for individuals facing all kinds of life issues and needing the love of Christ, one by one and person after person.
Thanks to an assignment from Dr. Verlon Fosner in the Dinner Church School of Leadership, I was on a prayer walk in a sore neighborhood close to our church where I had never spent much time.
I felt the Holy Spirit speaking and a Scripture came alive to me as never before. All of a sudden, the Lord brought a deep revelation in my heart: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
I finally grasped the “dwelling among us.”
Looking around, I understood that if Jesus was here, he would be moving into this area and pouring himself into the likeness of someone who lives here. If we were going to be anything like Jesus, we’d have to actually spend time being present in this neighborhood and caring for these people. If we were going to reach the lost, we had better be ready to sacrifice like Jesus.
If we were going to be anything like Jesus, we’d have to actually spend time being present in this neighborhood and caring for these people.Tweet this.
In our dinner church, we are able to do exactly this. We are spending time and bringing the light of Jesus straight into the place we’re called (rather than expecting the lost to come to us). We listen, help, interact with and genuinely love those who we have been unable to reach before. This is the gospel alive in a city space with believers gathered, the strong presence of Jesus, abundant and colorful food, real koinonia, the stories of Christ being told and experienced, and the lost and broken present. If this is sounding familiar, check out the life of Jesus and the early church.
It was assignments like this prayer walk that have made this experience so transformational. At the same time we were launching our Dinner Church, I was also participating in the Dinner Church School of Leadership, a nine month graduate program simultaneously. Teachers like Verlon Fosner, praxis assignments and books opened my eyes and changed me.
I came to understand the true mission of the church, the powerful historical and ecclesiological precedent for the Jesus Table, and the power of Jesus Stories and the new passover. A fire was lit in my heart with the localized apostolic mindset as I began to re-think evangelism and the centrality of mission that all Christ followers should be demonstrating.
From Serving in the Church to Street-Level Mission Work
I am not the only one who has been changed in the dinner church journey. Our team of leaders and volunteers who joined this adventure have found deep purpose and are learning relational evangelism. Dinner church is a special kind of Great Commission environment that compels all of us to behave like Christ with our time, resources and actions.
People who used to only serve inside the church walls now have a regular place to do street-level missional work which is as simple as sitting down to dinner with someone, but as powerful as seeing walls come down in someone’s life and that person being touched and changed by Jesus.
In dinner church there is a place for everyone to serve and many different roles which people enjoy doing, such as cooking, security, food serving, eating with people, washing dishes, teaching the Christ stories. Everyone is an evangelist and we encourage our people to take time and enjoy getting to know their neighbors. Where else would they have a place to sit down with seculars and broken people, build relationships and give of themselves to directly be the hands and feet of Jesus?
There have been many nights when we’ve been literally astonished at the things God does amongst us. On Tuesdays when we’re packed up and headed out, we do so with hearts and souls more full than when we came, and rejoicing that Jesus has once again come to dinner in our town. Our volunteers radiate with joy sharing stories with each other and often explain how God is calling them to more evangelism and giving them more life purpose through dinner church.
Thank You For Seeing Us
A dinner church is so much greater than the sum of its parts. God created the table to be a place both holy and approachable, where we experience His presence in more ways than one and He is pursuing the hearts of people. As Dr. Fosner puts it, we are in the God-family rescue business.
We have seen people weeping right during dinner who realized they have been far from God for many years. We meet people who nobody sees, except that Jesus sees them and when they come to dinner at The Neighborhood (the name of our dinner church) they are honored, loved, and definitely nurtured in spirit and body.
Feedback we hear regularly: “thank you for seeing us,” “I like that it’s religious without the show” and that they love the accessibility of the Jesus stories. We have people who are afraid to venture into a church building who know they belong and are like family to us at the table.
Here are just a few of stories from The Neighborhood:
- The impact of the love of Christ on broken people: People who have gone through trauma and unbelievable loss over the past few years sharing that they have never felt welcome or even noticed in other churches, but at our dinners they know we love them. The Neighborhood is a healing place where they experience Jesus and connect with people who care.
- Miraculous reconciliation: When sharing the Jesus story one evening, one of our leaders told about a reconciliation with his brother who he hadn’t spoken to in 20 years. That same evening, a man was reunited with his sister at our dinner, who he hadn’t spoken to in over 2 years and who was unaware he was homeless. She had grandchildren with her that he’d never met. They didn’t know each other would be at the same dinner. God’s restoring power in the family happened in real time at the table.
- Reaching the unreached: Secular people come, return, start volunteering and invite others. They are some of our biggest fans.
- The power of Jesus stories: People share that these are changing their thinking about God and Jesus, sticking with them and influencing their actions and decisions.
- Relational Evangelism: In dinner church we are all about hearing people’s stories, listening and building relationships, and the gospel naturally flows at the table.
- Reaching dechurched: people who want nothing to do with traditional church are coming and returning.
Most of us have a sense that right now (not tomorrow, or next year or sometime down the road) is the time for the Church to recover the authentic mission given to us by Jesus and to rethink our motives and ministry. We know we are in a post-Christendom world that requires different approaches than have worked previously and a church that can reach into the sociology of its neighborhoods.
I encourage you to start a dinner church as an answer to this call from Jesus and the need to reimagine what it means to be the church in your city, your town, your street. Dinner church is what the lost and broken in your neighborhood are waiting for. As we say, set the table and let the Savior be good at his job!