Sharing a Meal Together: An Underestimated Fellowship Builder
by Shelley Leith, Study Gateway
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. – Acts 2:46
One of my favorite fellowship builders is one that most small groups in homes or church settings either underestimate or avoid. This killer fellowship idea is…FOOD! No, I’m not talking about the proverbial bowl of Doritos, or the (ho hum) coffee and Safeway cookies. No, I’m talking about a real, bonafide, full-on meal!
Meals in Small Groups Build Fellowship
You may not give a lot of credence to the idea of sharing a full meal together in your church small group. You might say, as long as we have coffee or maybe a snack, that’s enough. Or, maybe you’d love to serve a full meal, but you think there’s too many logistics to work out.
Let me share with you my story.My Journey with Food in My Church Small Group
I am in a church small group that has been together for 19 years, and the one thing that has kept us consistently attending our meetings has been sharing dinner together. The seasons where we tried to not do dinner and just serve a snack, attendance fell off so badly we cancelled more meetings than we held. The way we do it is we meet weekly, rotating to different homes. The host home serves the main course, and the other group members bring the salad and dessert. We have dinner from 6:00 to 7:30, and we do our study from 7:30 to 9:00.
What I Learned from Alpha
Here’s something I have learned from Alpha, the outreach program that has been experienced by millions of people in 169 countries. Interestingly, no matter what country Alpha is taking place in, having a shared meal is a requirement for every meeting, because across all cultures and languages, it is a universal fact that people relax and let down their defenses when they eat a meal with each other. According to Alpha, it’s imperative to welcome people with hospitality in order to create a place of safety for them to process their most personal beliefs.
Here are three reasons why small groups should add food (read, meals!) to your gatherings:
Reason 1: Food is inviting to your small group.
Showing up to a small group for the first time, or even the second or third time, can be a scary experience. You can help reduce those fears by including food. It creates an inviting focal point and allows attendees to immediately participate in something together.
Reason 2: Food opens conversations in your small group.
The subject of the food itself is a natural topic of conversation that everyone has in common. Plus, there’s no better way to encourage personal conversations to take place than over a meal. There is something about the act of eating food that brings down barriers and puts people at ease.
Reason 3: Food helps decision-making in your small group.
Think about this: Esau gave up his birthright because he was hungry. Food has an impact on our ability to make wise decisions. One expert says, “Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low.” We want our members to be at their best when discussing, learning and making decisions that can change our lives and the lives of those around us.
Still, the idea of serving a meal every week might seem daunting – you’ll have to deal with timing, budget, dietary needs, logistics. Why go to all that trouble when people can just as well eat before they come, like they’re supposed to?
But I want you to think about what small groups expert Ryan Sanders from Irving Bible Church shares. In his article called , he suggests that groups should be going somewhere. And any group on a good journey has landmark moments, including three things: consistent attendance, overcoming an obstacle, and storytelling. In my experience, having dinner together gives your group all three landmark moments.
- First, it encourages consistent attendance in your small group. I did weekly dinners for my senior girls’ life group, and out of all the high school life groups at Saddleback Church, mine had the best attendance—in their senior year!
- The next landmark moment of overcoming an obstacle is something you’ll do as you figure out how to prepare and serve a meal every week. Our obstacles in that high school life group were all the dietary restrictions we had to deal with: we had gluten free, paleo, vegan, lactose intolerant—all in the same group! We ended up having a lot of taco bars!
Try the food-themed Bible study Taste and See with your small group!
Did you know there’s a whole Bible study devoted to the subject of food? In Taste and See, Margaret Feinberg shows us how God uses food throughout the Bible to demonstrate his love for us! In this six-session study every week Margaret and her husband Leif open with a cooking lesson and prepare a different Biblical food together to help us discover food’s significance to our Christian lives. This study will change the way you read the Bible forever…and the way you approach every meal!To enjoy Taste and See with your small group, sign up for a small group plan at Study Gateway. Study Gateway also offer plans for individuals and churches, and they all come with a free 7-day trial.
Looking for other ideas for improving small group engagement? Check out my other articles:
- Is Attendance Declining in Your Small Group Bible Study?
- 3 Tips for Starting a Church Small Group That Works