The Clinton, Iowa, Corps brings worship around the table

Enjoying food and fellowship is nothing new for churchgoers. Potlucks, prayer breakfasts and supper clubs are all common activities for communities of believers. In fact, gathering together for a meal while engaging in Kingdom-building, learning and discussion goes all the way back to the book of Acts, when it was customary for the apostles.

The Clinton, Iowa, Corps, led by Lts. Justin and Stephanie Hartley, has joined a movement that embraces the methods of the early church to unite believers and nonbelievers around the table.

“Dinner Church is a different approach,” said Lt. Justin. “It’s going back to the days of learning and fellowshipping together around the table rather than in a formal service.”

Dinner Church is designed for members and visitors to mingle in fellowship throughout the evening and to enjoy a meal together. The focus is on intentionally building relationships with the marginalized, hungry and lonely and sharing the gospel with them while also including them in the community of Christian believers. Each hot, four-course meal is accompanied by similar elements to a traditional Sunday service: a focused prayer time, music, scripture and a message. It’s simply done with everyone seated family-style around tables rather than in pews.

Heartland Divisional Commander Major Kelly Collins presented the idea to the division after attending a seminar in Seattle, Wash., at which Dr. Verlon Fosner, founder of the Dinner Church Collective, spoke.

“We already have church, and we already feed people,” she said. “This is a way to make our feeding more missional. It turns clients into guests.”

With her support and the help of an evangelism grant from the division, the corps introduced their Dinner Church to Clinton residents.

“We wanted to do something different to reach new demographics,” Lt. Justin said. “We had a small congregation with a hole in the middle—very young and then closer to retirement age.”

Since its launch last year, Clinton’s Dinner Church has nearly doubled in attendance. Families from Pathway of Hope and those who receive assistance from the food pantry have become regular participants, along with a young couple who were familiar with the Army from their childhood. They’ve even added a member to the praise team and a couple of youth leaders who volunteered after coming to Dinner Church.

“Everyone is really accepting of one another,” Lt. Justin concluded. “No one feels like they’re being called out because of where they came from. It’s like one big family.”

More information about the Dinner Church movement can be found at www.dinnerchurch.com

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