For five years of my life, I always looked forward to the third Thursday of November. You read that right, the third Thursday. Indeed, I always look forward to the fourth Thursday of November (Thanksgiving). However, during my wife’s time as Associate Pastor of Mill City Church (before co-planting North City Church with me), she created an event called Thanks Give Serve on the Thursday before Thanksgiving.

For many years she led a group of volunteers who served the clients of a local food pantry. One year she and her team decided they would throw a neighborhood thanksgiving celebration in partnership with the pantry’s clients. It became an annual tradition we all look forward to.

Our church would rally together to pull off a generous potluck-style Thanksgiving meal. We’d cook several turkeys; people would prepare mashed potatoes, gravy, and a generous offering of Minnesota hot dishes and desserts (no one beats Minnesotan’s hot-dish game).

It was a feast, and everyone was invited. Clients from the pantry would join in. There was worship music setting the ambiance and a brief but meaningful devotion at some point, but the main dish was the meal – conversation and connection around the tables. 

Glimpsing the Kingdom of God

The food was undoubtedly something to look forward to, but there was so much more. The event satisfied some of my deeper appetites as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor, cravings that weren’t so often satisfied in our Sunday gatherings.

I loved to sit back and watch. I loved watching clients from the food pantry join in the preparations as co-hosts, generously offering items they had just picked up at the pantry to the potluck table. I loved watching people reconnect from previous years. I loved watching church people push past their comfort zone to connect across the table and across socioeconomic and racial differences. I loved watching the laughter. I loved the kids giggling and dancing throughout the tables. I loved watching heads bowing discretely as people prayed for each other in response to needs that came up in conversation (sometimes church folk praying for clients, sometimes the other way around). It was a sacred space where strangers were becoming friends. Jesus’ presence seems as thick as the jello pudding. 

I remember thinking, “this is the kingdom of God; this is the family of God at its best,  this is Jesus’ dinner table; this is the church.” I had no idea how deeply those truths would shape my future as a church planter in the years to come. 

After Thanks Give Serve, there were always conversations and comments like “we should do that more often,” or “man, what would it be like if church was more like that?” But conversation and imagination always faded with the business of life and church calendars. However, for some, the ache of what could be remained. 

From Once a Year to Once a Week

Fast forward to early spring 2021, my wife and I are co-pastoring a dwindling church plant through a pandemic and identity crisis. You can read a fuller version of the story here .

Amid that crucible, our church decerns it’s called to be a table-centric church. We had faith but not much of a picture of what a table-centric church could look like. But what many of us who were a part of Mill City previously did have were memories of Thanks Give Serve. We had those memories, and the lingering question: what if Church could look like Thanks Give Serve regularly? Could we do church around a big neighborhood table? 

Our faithful response to that question was, “let’s try… and find out.” Jesus answered our faith with a yes. We didn’t know all those years back that Jesus was planting seeds for a vision of what North City is now, a Dinner Church – a Dinner Church that sees some of those same things I saw annually at Thanks Give Serve weekly around our community dinner table. 

What if God has planted those same seeds in your church’s thanksgiving event?

What if a dinner church is waiting to sprout out of the soil you and Jesus have cultivated annually at your church’s thanksgiving event? I have a hunch a dinner church is waiting to spring forth if your community has faith, vision, and a call from Jesus. 

The Five Seeds You Need to Plant a Dinner Church

As we have grown into a Dinner Church, I’ve noticed five “seeds” in that initial Thanksgiving service project that have helped us grow and mature into a community. If you have seeds like this, you may be ready to start a Dinner Church, too.


Family and Thanksgiving go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. One of the most beautiful things that can happen at thanksgiving events is when the people of God blur the lines of the traditional notions of the family by putting the family of God on display.

Early Christian’s agape feasts often spawned out of οἶκοi (plural for Oīkos or household) – family networks. That’s precisely the sort of group that’s perfect for starting a dinner church. Not an extended family group but a group of Christians who are on a mission and function like an extended family on a mission.

They don’t see themselves as volunteers; they see themselves as friends on a team. They feel bonded together by Jesus and the mission. This team/oikos naturally will have leaders. People who can give Jesus stories, people who can play music, people who love hospitality, people great at engaging with neighbors, people just ready to serve and pray. 

Do you have a crew of people like this, or could you assemble one? If you can, you have the team you need to get started. 


Food brings people together. Food is a universal language, and its tone is love. It’s how we build friendships and offer acceptance.

Food, a shared meal, can be a gospel demonstration of abundant grace. Aren’t abundance, generosity, and grace the best of what we hope to express through our thanksgiving meals? To parlay a thanksgiving event into a dinner church would look like simplifying and replicating those same realities every week for your community. Some do it through a weekly potluck; some choose to cater every week’s meal.

The substance and spirit of the meal are the same, abundance and grace – the good news of Jesus. Though the theological features of a community meal might be fairly visible to you, often, the logistics seem daunting. They don’t have to be, and churches around the country do it every week. 

Do you have a person in your community who loves to cook? Or maybe you know how to “feed an army”? If you’re looking for some help, The Dinner Church Handbook has practical examples and recipes for how to do this. 

Front door 

In most cases, Dinner Churches flourish in community spaces and with strong community partnerships. Some of the brilliance of Thanks Give Serve was that it was on the clients of the food pantry’s home turf. It didn’t happen in a church. Our goal was not to get them to come to church. It was a church right there in that community center on that third Thursday in November. This deeply shaped North City’s decision-making around where to launch our dinner church.

There is something powerful and palpable when a third space (a community space) becomes a thin space (sacred space). Dinner churches, and the Jesus tables they set, have an amazing ability to do that.

Where is the third space in your community that could become a thin space? What would it be like to give your “family on mission” that vision? 


To this day, I’m still pleasantly surprised how much generosity gets unlocked when food and feeding people is a part of the vision and ask. This has been my experience in leading a dinner church. It’s probably your experience around Thanksgiving events, generosity flows.

What if you could harness that to raise money to fund your first dinner church? You can. Dinner church costs range across the country and across expressions. They vary depending on staff, space, and food costs. Some dinner churches have vibrant missions for as little $2,500 a month or less, but most are more funded.  I’ll venture a guess that your community could find the funds it needs from within or from outside cheerleaders. 

Who do you know that would eagerly fund a dinner church project?


The staple ingredients for the format of a dinner church may already be in your thanksgiving event. They were in ours.

An open invite and welcoming greeting, eating together over a generous meal, worshipful engaging music, relational connections naturally forging around tables, prayer, and a story about Jesus highlighting why you are hosting a community dinner in the first place and the difference Jesus can make in everyday life.

If you can use these core ingredients to build your weekly format, adding in your own faith stream favorite flavors and spices, you’ll have contextualized dinner church receipts the neighborhood will want to try.

Do you already have spaces in your church community where people eat, sing together or listen to each other’s stories? If so, that could be a great place to start when looking for someone to join this new effort.


Take these elements and trustingly try. Experiment with an iteration of your thanksgiving event and have faith that Jesus might fan it into the flames of a new church.

That’s really what this is all about—faithfully forging a new community of faith. A community trusting Jesus will show up around a neighborhood table. We live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), and faith is also being sure of what we hope for and being certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Therefore, your job as a leader is to cultivate a robust vision of what’s possible through dinner church (a sort of certainty of what you hope for).

Has God Already Given You a Vision?

You might already have the groundwork for that vision in your thanksgiving event. We did!

I remember early in 2021 when we named God’s call our church to become a table-centric church but didn’t know what that would look like. I remember when one of our leadership team members said, “it could be something like Thanks Give Serve, like what Mill City used to do at the food pantry; that was beautiful.” Precisely.

Consider where God is already moving you, and seek a faith-filled vision of what could be.

You’ll Need a Guide.

The last thing you’ll need is a guide to help you bring your team along the road toward this vision becoming a reality.

The Dinner Church Collective team has tried to produce resources to help guide you. We also have the training to help you walk through the journey with your team (ask us about a dinner church encounter), but we want you to know we are here for you and want to help in whatever way we can.

Learn more at  

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J.D. Larson
About the Author

J.D. Larson

J.D. Larson is Coordinator of Community Development for Dinner Church Collective with Fresh Expressions. He and his wife, ChristianAnn, co-pastor a Dinner Church called North City Church in Minneapolis. North City is currently working to open a second Dinner Church and has helped other churches nearby start their own Dinner Churches. J.D. previously served as an Executive Pastor at Mill City Church and graduated from Bethel Seminary with a M.Div. He and his wife have three kids and a springer spaniel who all love the outdoors and good food.