The Ohio Ministry Network (OMN) has set a goal of having 1,000 healthy Assemblies of God congregations and 250,000 adherents across the state by 2030. Carl R. Bauchspiess and his wife, Judy, are training and partnering with church planters in Ohio to see this vision come to fruition through a relatively new model: dinner church.
Bauchspiess, 65, is a new candidate U.S. missionary specializing in training leaders to plant dinner churches. Bauchspiess estimates that 25% of the congregations launched in the Buckeye State between now and 2030 will be dinner churches.
“Lonely people need community, and sometimes they also need a good meal,” Bauchspiess says. “Dinner church meets both of those needs while also introducing guests to Jesus, the One who meets the needs of the soul and spirit. No one wants to eat alone, and no one wants to be lonely.”
Bauchspiess previously served as a pastor at Alma Center Assembly of God in Wisconsin, where he stopped every Sunday morning at a store on the edge of town to buy coffee. Each week without fail, he saw four men chatting together at a table and invited them to attend the morning service. They never came, despite the weekly invitation.
“But when we launched dinner church, they showed up,” Bauchspiess says. “These men didn’t want to sit in a row of chairs for an hour. They wanted connection and conversation. They wanted relationships with their community.”
Most dinner churches follow a homogenous format of a healthy and abundant meal, followed by a story about the life of Christ, a prayer of blessing, and then ministry facilitated at each table by a team leader who disciples guests, prays for their needs, and fosters relationships with those seated at their table.
Food is a common denominator for all people, regardless of background, culture, or nationality. Sitting down to enjoy a meal with others is a more comfortable atmosphere for some than a traditional church service, where the rhythms and customs may not be as familiar. Therefore, many dinner church settings are able to reach people who might not otherwise attend a formal service on a Sunday morning. Some dinner churches are experiencing great effectiveness in areas with large immigrant or refugee populations, where guests not only receive a good meal and hear about Jesus, but also get to practice their English skills and build friendships in their new community.
Ordained AG minister Al R. Yanno Jr., OMN Church Multiplication Network director, believes this is the model of the Early Church reimagined for the 21st century. He credits Verlon Fosner, an AG pastor in the Seattle area, with igniting the dinner church movement.
“Fosner’s model of dinner church is really no different than what we see in the first century church,” says Yanno, 55. “It’s people coming together, eating together, sharing community, and telling stories about Jesus.”
Right now, there are about half a dozen dinner churches operating in Ohio, mostly as plants or parent-affiliated churches. Yanno says the model can work in areas that are rural, urban, or suburban.
Yanno and Bauchspiess are partnering to plan training sessions for church planters and early adopters of this model as a part of the Ohio for Jesus initiative. Currently, 18 of the 88 counties in the state don’t have an AG presence.
“We hope that planting dinner churches in these communities can help introduce Jesus to greater numbers of lost Ohioans who need to feed not only their bodies but their souls and spirits as well,” Yanno says.