Let me start this post with a caveat. I believe in church fellowship dinners. The early church shared meals together, and so should we. At the same time, though, I think we often miss the point with these meals. Here’s why:
- The meals too often focus only on self. We don’t intentionally do that, but the natural focus is on feeding ourselves without thinking much about others.
- They’re calendared rather than organic. That is, we eat together when the calendar says we should (e.g., Thanksgiving, Christmas, homecoming Sunday, etc.), but we seldom do so otherwise. Simply getting together to share life is foreign to us.
- They neglect the New Testament perspective of fellowship that provokes one another to good works (Heb 10:24-25). The early church gathered together, and one of their goals was to push each other to stay faithful even under persecution. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a fellowship dinner include this goal.
- They sometimes reflect our tendency toward gluttony. Many of us eat a lot compared to much of the world. Just ask missionaries who are amazed by North American restaurant portions after they’ve spent time on the field.
- They sometimes promote cliques. That happens when the same people sit with the same people in every church event. The whole congregation gathers, but few people know more members at a deeper level after the event.
- They miss an opportunity to promote an outward focus. Celebrating God’s goodness through a meal together is a good time to prayerfully remember those who have little to eat, set aside food to share with others, and pray for the needy. We don’t usually do that, however.
- They’re only churchwide, and not intimate. If church members eat together only when the entire congregation gathers, we miss an opportunity to get to know each other more intimately through small group meals. Little life-on-life sharing does not take place at most fellowship meals.
So, how do we change this pattern? Here are a few options:
- At dinners, enlist one or two brief testimonies that will spur on others.
- Prepare and deliver meals for hurting and unchurched neighbors.
- Read Scripture at all gatherings.
- When evaluating events, consider whether they intentionally promote love and good works.
- Encourage groups to pray around the table.
- Challenge small groups to have regular meals together.
- Encourage members to sit with people they don’t know (or, if you can get away with it, assign seats . . .).
- Have a fellowship meal without food – just fast and pray for your community.
What other idea would you add to this list?