The Dinner Church movement is growing across the West.
With traditional approaches becoming less and less effective in reaching secular populations, leaders are now reaching out for different sociologies of “doing church.” Interestingly, rebirthing an ecclesial form that dates back to the Apostolic Era is proving to be highly effective again in creating great commission environments for unchurched people.
The New Passover
Dinner Church is not an innovation – it is a recovery project! And that historic recovery is at the heart of this academic program. This ecclesial form drew its meaning from the New Passover that Christ himself practiced and handed over to the first disciples. On that final evening, Jesus took an annual meal-event designed to be a remembrance of Israel’s escape from Egypt and changed it to a remembrance event about Him and His stories – “Do this in remembrance of me.” From Paul’s retelling of that night it was clearly to be done “whenever” and “often.” For the early disciples, they recognized Jesus was giving them a manner of gathering – The New Passover.
Apostolic Era Ecclesiology
From the moment the book of Acts begins, it is apparent that the First Church instinctively ran to the table as their place and manner of Christian gatherings. Of course, this instinct had been implanted into them by the Lord himself by the way He functioned – healing by day and dinner with sinners by night, and then punctuated by The Last Supper. Thus, a table ecclesiology was born. This socio-form of church was very different than any conception of church we hold today. Any serious student of the dinner church would do well to embrace the many intrinsic differences in the practices of preaching, discipleship, evangelism, and the familial sociology that constituted a Jesus table.
Table Theology Still Works
The last vestige of the Agape’ socio-forms is seen in the notes from the council of Trullian in AD 692. It was here the Dinner Church was banned forever, as the Christendom leaders could no longer abide non-ordained clergy handling the elements of communion. For over thirteen centuries the Jesus table in its full understanding laid mostly dormant in Christian history. However, in this last decade, the Spirit is bringing it back alive again. Dr. Mike Graves in his book “Table Talk” chronicled how the Dinner Church vision sprang up from the four corners of the nation simultaneously and without knowledge of each other. And surprisingly, it is proving to be just as effective with the non-churched population as it was in Apostolic times. In point of fact, the First Church grew from a movement of hundreds to a movement of tens-of-millions during the time they practiced the New Passover as their form of gatherings. In retrospect, it appears that the day the Church laid down the Jesus table was the day they lost their most powerful expression of evangelism. What a joy to see that historic ecclesiology birthing again, and especially to see that the bond between table and sinner is as strong as it was in New Testament writ.It appears that the day the Church laid down the Jesus table was the day they lost their most powerful expression of evangelism. What a joy to see that historic ecclesiology birthing again! Click To Tweet
Once a church returns to a Jesus table as their primary form of gathering, something unexpected happens – they see their neighborhood with new eyes. The invention of the automobile followed by the church growth movement was a one-two punch that caused leaders to lay down their neighborhood assumptions and instead started focusing on faceless people who live within a fifteen-minute drive. In the late 1960’s walking circles were deemed ‘old school’ and driving circles became the guiding assumption of the church. However, any group recovering the Jesus table ecclesiology seems to experience an unexpected transformation; neighborhoodism is birthed in them again. Rather than leaders making plans for the faceless masses, they find themselves praying for Tina in the blue house down the street who has the Autistic son, and Bob in the white apartment building at the end of the block who recently lost his job. That is the neighborhood church; it has been Christianity’s sweet spot for centuries. Joyously, it is making a comeback before our very eyes.Once a church returns to a Jesus table as their primary form of gathering, something unexpected happens – they see their neighborhood with new eyes. Click To Tweet
I worry that some leaders will embrace the dinner sociology but continue with the Reformation Era patterns from the past five-hundred years. This would be short-sighted. Planting a Dinner Church is not as simple as doing church like we know it, except around tables. That would be akin to the measuring proverbial iceberg by what is visible on the surface and excluding the large mass residing under the water. The Dinner Church flows from a very deep historical and theological body of material that is below the water-level. Simply stated, the depths of understanding to be mined in the dinner church theology is significant and warrants graduate-level instruction and theological reflection.
That need has prompted an academic response – the Dinner Church School of Leadership.
Learn How To Plant And Lead A Dinner Church
- Learn how to select and train a core team and train volunteers for a Dinner Church.
- Learn how to select a neighborhood and a site for a Dinner Church.
- Learn how to take pastoral responsibility for a new Dinner Church congregation.
- Learn how to prepare and deliver a kerygmatic sermon and how to disciple people in the likeness of Christ around tables.
- Learn how to develop prayer strategies that will keep you on the front-lines of the Gospel.
Dr. Verlon and Melodee Fosner have led a multi-site Assemblies of God dinner church in Seattle, Washington since 1999 (www.CommunityDinners.com). They joined the FX team in 2016 and founded the Dinner Church Collective. In this decade when more churches in the U.S. are declining than thriving, and when eighty churches a week are closing, Verlon and Melodee sensed that a different way of doing church was needed for their 85-year old Seattle congregation. It soon became obvious that they were not the only ones in need of a different path. There is a lot to be gained when church leaders begin to see open doors in the American landscape that they had previously overlooked. Therein lies the journey for those who will forge a new future for the American Church.