Okay. It may not be the best way to describe all that we are. L24 Collective observes several rhythms in different spaces. Yet, the shared meal is our center — our primary environment for interaction. Why? Because we have yet to find a better way to bring people together and keep them together. It...just...works!
With "Dinner Churches" starting to pop up throughout the US and Europe, we thought that sharing a handful of things we've learned along the way might be helpful. So without further introduction...
3 Things We've Learned
1. Go family style.
We swore off buffet service from day one and I'm so glad we did! Why? Because in a buffet line, people put their heads down and move through the assembly line. It's cold and robotic. You don't speak to anyone around you except to say "Excuse me." Say-it-like-it-is people might say "Hurry up!" There's virtually no positive interaction involved in this scenario.
The solution? Family style service! Why? Because nothing "breaks the ice" with the people around you like passing plates and even serving a heaping scoop of something onto someone else's plate for them. We've found that people quickly let their guards down, laugh at the spoonful of peas that rolled all over the floor, and naturally find inroads to more conversation. So when you come to one of our meal gatherings, you'll find long dining tables lined with enormous plates of piping hot food, ready for the passing.
2. Always leave an open seat.
There are variations of a Jewish tradition where one chair is left empty in honor of symbolic guests invited to "grace" the dwelling with their presence. Although this Jewish ritual initially inspired the idea, we've developed our own tradition from it. At our seasonal dinners, we leave one chair empty as an open invitation to the stranger that may pass by, seeking friendship, a hot meal and good news.
Is this just a ritual? No. At our Fall Dinner, this chair went unfilled. At our recent Winter Dinner, we met someone just hours before the gathering and invited them in. For us, it is a deliberate action that communicates our commitment to an inviting culture. We always want to convey, "There's a place for you at our table."
3. It's worth doing well.
Step away from the red Solo cups! Ditch the paper plates. Break out the china and real glasses. In short, don't be cheap! What you are doing here is significant. Let people know you believe it is!
Why is it significant? Well, 1 Timothy 3:2 goes so far as to list "hospitable" as one of the qualifications for a Christian Leader, right alongside their ability to teach, their marital faithfulness, and their self-control. In other words, showing hospitality (willingly sharing what we have with others) is a really important facet of whole-gospel living. So give it everything you have! (This includes paying your hired caterers and servers well too.)
What does "church around the table" look like?
See for yourself! This video from our Winter Dinner at McCarthy's Red Stag Pub should paint a pretty picture for you.