Northern Student Reaches Community Through “Dinner Church”

July 16, 2019

Crothersville, Indiana, is a community of 1,600 people in southern Indiana. Bethany Baptist, with an average worship of attendance of around 70 people, has a huge impact in this rural area.The congregation is taking a cue from the early church described in the book of Acts, by going outside the church to break bread in “table fellowship”.

Pastor Troy Burns said the concept of “Dinner Church” is to reach out to people in a familiar, comfortable setting, and the key is to listen. There are people that have never been introduced to the church, because their parents had a bad experience. They weren’t raised in the church and so they have no idea what church is like. Burns said, “It’s left a lot of people on the outside, on the fringes.” “Dinner Church” grew out of a desire to be relevant and to reach out to the community. To live into the text of Acts 2:42; “They devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Rev. Burns said he was inspired by the book “Faithful Presence” by David Fitch, which emphasizes the need to build community and to understand that God is with us, what he calls “Incarnational living”. The idea emerged to invite people to a meal, with an intentionality of hearing people’s stories. Rev. Burns said, “Everybody is going to eat supper anyway. Let’s just do it together. If we’re going to love someone else, we have to be willing to hear their story and ask God and ourselves to be willing to step into that story and make a difference.”The results have been encouraging.

In the few months since the church started a “table fellowship” outreach program, Wednesday night participation has gone from approximately three people to between 18 and 21 at two table fellowships.

At the affordable housing apartment community in Crothersville, table fellowship comes in the form of cake and ice cream, served on the patio area. The church has established a good reputation there by helping folks. For example, they have helped with moving in and out of the apartment complex.

“Last night we had nine people here in my home, Rev. Burns said. “It’s amazing how we have grown. People feel very comfortable coming to our table and sharing their story.” He said some of the people who have been coming to his table will establish table fellowship outreaches in their own homes, or wherever people break bread and talk in a comfortable setting. They listen intently to others, and if they have troubles or issues, offer to pray with them about the situation. “And inevitably, they say ‘Yes’,” he said. “I’ve never had anyone say, ‘No, you can’t pray for me’.”

Rev. Burns said the outreach is producing some really big breakthroughs. “This is hands-on living the scripture,” he said. “We’re seeking to live the Bible, not just showing up to check a box so that we can go home and feel good about ourselves.” “We’re trying to build that community.”

Written and originally published in The Baptist Observer magazine by American Baptist Churches in Indiana and Kentucky.

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