The Dinner Church movement is not happening in a cultural vacuum; there is a reason why it is rebirthing now. We would do well to place these New Passovers that are springing up all around the West into some larger realities.
First: The secular worldview populous is now outnumbering the judeo-worldview population 2-to-1. Given that, the last time the Church was highly effective with the Gentile peoples, it was functioning primarily as an Agape’ Church…a New Passover Church…a Dinner Church. For The Spirit to point us back to the table sociology again now, is nothing short of divine timing.
Second: We are caught in the sway of a worldwide pandemic. The shutdowns, masking, vaccines, and other mitigations have separated people from their family, friends and daily patterns. This has brought about the greatest levels of isolation in our lifetime. Looking at the Dinner Church throughout time suggests a strong truth; Isolated people flock to the Jesus Table.
Not only are we supposed to intentionally invite marginal, often friendless people but we should expect they will come.
In many cases, we become the only family they have. Beyond us, these isolated friends find peace and solace from eating with the Lord and his people. A Dinner Churches mannerisms and style are simple, but the needs they meet are deep.
Third: There is a growing animosity against organized religion and Christianity as it is commonly practiced. Many of our neighbors feel that Christians go into our nice buildings, talk about better-than-you moralistic things, and spend all of our resources on ourselves. Yet, what little they know of Jesus has led them to believe that we should be spending our time and money making a difference in the sore spots of society. Unfortunately, we have adopted a manner of church that sequesters ourselves among ourselves on Sundays. In so doing, our secular neighbors feel they are left alone to solve the difficult societal issues.
Dinner Churches however, take the people of God right out into the public square; feeding people, welcoming the secluded and socially isolated. Being present in the city square begins to change the opinions of the secular public. Many churches who decide to open a New Passover church will be shocked by the immediacy of respect they receive from former haters. It is time for the church to roll up our sleeves and throw ourselves right into the morass of social need that is frustrating our towns. They need it, we need it, and Jesus wants it.
Fourth: Dinner Church is a form of church-planting that is affordable for small churches. Many leaders of average sized churches across the land would love to expand their influence through church planting, but they are barely making it financially right now. That statement assumes only the history of the proclamation model. Many people who begin Jesus Table churches assume they will have to crack the financial nut in a big way. They dive into fundraising and stress out about money like a good church planter should. That stress actually makes sense with 50% of all new church plants having to close before their first birthday for financial reasons.
Jesus Tables have a different financial relationship with heaven. In fact, almost all Dinner Church planters who assumed they would be mired in fundraising find that after a few months aren’t worrying about money. Rather, they witness a miraculous financial flow begin to pour into their story in unexplainable ways, and they learn there is such a thing as a God-calculator that works a bit different than our calculators.
Fifth: Dinner Church has the capacity to help lead large churches back to the margins of humanity. Large churches became large by following the church-growth principles of making their gatherings and programs appeal to large circles of people. However, this growth comes at a cost. It is likely that they have lost their vision of the margins. To look for the larger appeal requires us to turn our eyes away from the painful appeals that come from the broken and liminal populations.
Don’t get me wrong, we need our larger churches and the Lord is using our larger churches in great ways. However, if such a group is going to make its way back out to the frontlines where the Gospel is taking new territory in its greatest strides, they will need to be taken by the hand and led there. Dinner Churches are those kind of guides. Dick Foth once said If a group ever loses Jesus, go to the poor and they will lead you back to him.
Some have become so focused on ‘best practices’ and ‘Christian programming’ that they have forgotten what it is like to follow Jesus after one lost sheep. New Passover churches will lead them back.
Sixth: If the last two years have done anything to our society, it has divided and fragmented us in heartbreaking ways. People who used to be friends won’t even talk to each other anymore on the basis of who they voted for. Family members are berating one another on social media because of articles they liked. As a Christian leader, I would rule that the ‘spirit of division’ and the ‘spirit of hatred’ has been unleashed upon us from the depths of hell itself. In my view, the damage of these twin spirits will have deeper and longer-lasting effects than the pandemic.
Even the Church is fracturing along political fault-lines. And yet, we have been tasked by scripture to offer the ‘Ministry Of Reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:18). If society needs anything from the Church now, they need help reconciling: ethnic reconciliation, family reconciliation, neighbor reconciliation, and even political-view reconciliation. Click To Tweet When it comes to reconciliation, this is where the Jesus Table shines. There is something about eating together that reminds us that we are all the same – all of us must eat food to survive. Engaging in the basic human act of eating together is an interesting first-step toward understanding each other.
I recall a story about Abraham Lincoln who met another politician and afterwards said to those around him, I do not like that man. I must have him over for dinner. There is wisdom in getting to the table and remembering our humanity together. There is even greater wisdom in bringing opponents together over New Passovers, and giving them a chance to reframe their perspectives while eating with their neighbors and Jesus Himself – the Prince of Peace. This can be our finest hour.
Seventh: Once we understand the New Passover, we begin to see how the First Church could spread through entire cities and regions in such prolific manners. We first witness this in Acts 5:28 when the High Priest charged the apostles with spreading their gospel throughout all of Jerusalem. Now, it is true that miracles were happening in the streets, and prayer meetings were happening on Solomon’s Porch, but it must be acknowledged that these New Passovers were spreading through the city from table to table. That is a point many miss when reading Acts.
I too made the initial mistake of thinking the way they spread through the city had to do with sidewalk evangelism and miracles – things that are hard for us to replicate. But once we recover the fact that these New Passovers were spreading from home to home and upper-room to upper-room, it changes everything for us. Not only is a Jesus Table something we can do, but it unveils a vision of ‘a-church-through-the-city’ rather than ‘a-church-on-a-corner’.
We have all wanted to impact our city, but we haven’t seen ourselves as doing church throughout our city. This was a huge revelation to our church in Seattle. In fact, it completely changed us and profoundly increased our influence through the city. I sense we are entering a day when more and more groups will begin seeing themselves as ‘a church through the city’. There are momentous days ahead for anyone who is energetically pursuing the In-breaking Kingdom.
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.