We had the Community Dinner for a year and a half. Our small gathering on Sunday night averaged around twenty people. We had been doing everything we could to get the word out. Putting signs up at the foodbank and library. Passing out sack lunches and fliers at the dollar store. Talking with community groups in the area. Posting on social media and the neighborhood blog. The night we had four people made me question what we were doing. Nobody new was coming and I began to wonder if God wanted to “remove our lampstand.” Maybe it was time to pack it in. I knew that the dinner was a blessing to the handful of people that came but I didn’t want to be delusional. God is faithful and wants to bring the increase, but maybe not at this particular location. We had our faithful volunteers over for dinner and talked about the future of our fellowship. We discussed the low attendance and I gave some ideas. We could try a new location. We could bring the meal to my friends living in a homeless encampment instead of inviting them to come to us. To my surprise the team wasn’t burned out or discouraged with our small turnout. They wanted to keep going. We decided to present ourselves as a church instead of emphasizing the free meal. The conventional wisdom was that the word church turns people off. We didn’t want people to feel misled or tricked so we would be upfront about our churchiness. Sharing a meal, music, art, and the Christ story, we were on a journey to becoming the church that serves dinner.
We prayed and prayed and thanked God for what he was going to do. We call that a “yet praise” in the spirit filled church world. Actually, we mostly yell that. “Oh God, please bring more people. We have all this food and space. We want you to be honored and I want to be successful. Or at least prove to the people that made fun of us that they were wrong.” Sometimes my motives aren’t the holiest.
After six more months of faithfulness we still had not attracted any more people. Undeterred, my wife and I started serving food and prayer in the parking lot in front of the Bartell Drug store. People came and thanked us, and blessed us, making it clear that we had a new home. We now serve seventy- five meals and welcome the neighborhood of White Center into the kingdom of God every Sunday night. Sometimes the best place for church is out of the back of your car! “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).” We are becoming the church that serves dinner!