If much of Jesus’s ministry happened around a meal, why not go back to that basic concept? That’s exactly what two churches in Kansas are doing to draw people in who, for the most part, would never walk into a church building.

Olathe Wesleyan Church in Kansas has planted a dinner church called Lydia’s Table about 30 miles away in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. The dinner church meets in a library and is run by Rev. Wayne Stam. Meanwhile, Rev. Nick Huck, senior pastor at Hutchinson Wesleyan Church, Kansas, has planted three dinner churches — The Big Table @ Good Sam, The Big Table @ Fox Run and The Big Table @ The Farmers Market.

All four of these church plants are less than one year old and are unique to their location and congregation. However, they follow the same basic structure — an expression of worship, a meal and a Jesus story. “We focus on the story of Jesus and how he related to the people around him at the table,” said Rev. Stam. “That’s how the church used to do things — eat and share stories of Jesus.”

Rev. Stam works for the Immigrant Connection outreach in Olathe as his day job and runs Lydia’s Table on Monday nights from his hometown of Lee’s Summit. Launched in mid-September 2022, Lydia’s Table meets in a local library and attracts a young crowd in an affluent area. “We have a 10-minute devotional and then go around the table and discuss it. It works well for those in their 20s.”

Olathe Wesleyan has a chef who cooks for the daycare facility and on Mondays for the dinner church. Rev. Stam and his wife, Emily, then deliver both the food and the message on Monday nights. “It’s a nice system, not a lot of overhead other than making food for people. There are no building expenses other than renting a room at the library.” He adds that some people are more comfortable coming into a library, and the added benefit is that children can eat and go find books to read.

The reason dinner church works is because it’s about building relationships, he says. “It’s a place where people can go to have a faith experience. I’d rather have them come there than go nowhere.”

He stresses that this is not a small group meeting outside of a church. “For the most part, it’s those who don’t go to church, or won’t go to church because of either politics or other reasons.”

But a simple concept isn’t always easy to pull off. For Hutchinson Wesleyan, it took five attempts before launching a successful dinner church.

But that makes the story of these successful church plants all the sweeter. Big Table @ Good Sam was birthed out of a Pizza Hut delivery person giving all his tips toward the church plant. This was enough to pay the budget to get the church started. “God blessed a gift and that was used as a funnel and God just poured resources through that,” said Rev. Huck.

Offerings then started pouring in at the Big Table @ Good Sam. It was taking in more than it needed to operate, so it decided to plant a second location at Fox Run, which is a location that offers temporary housing for families in need and is next to a homeless shelter. “The Fox Run people don’t have a lot to give, but they serve the people from the homeless shelter and are very proud of that.” A third location now meets once a month at a farmers market.

Kansas District Superintendent Nathan Rovenstine fully supports these dinner church initiatives. “We are very excited about dinner church. We believe this model has the potential to reach people who have their guard up toward the church. I mean, who can say no to pie! I am so impressed with the heart and passion that Wayne and Nick have displayed in using a new model to plant a fresh expression of church.”

Rev. Huck also stresses the point that this isn’t just an outreach event. “We need to engage in field preaching. It’s a church. It’s not a soup kitchen, it’s not a dinner at the church.”

Big Table’s “volunteers cook, so it is part of the ministry to do the cooking and the serving. It requires more volunteers, but we like that because of the fellowship and discipleship.” Rev. Huck gives his Assistant Pastor Billie White credit for doing the bulk of the work.

All of this is done to deliver the message of Jesus. One couple who has been coming to dinner church said they both finished rehab for drug addiction, have been clean and sober for several months, but their families still won’t have anything to do with them. They attend dinner church because they connected with the message of Jesus saying he couldn’t preach in his own hometown.

The ripple effect continues as Hutchinson Wesleyan is eyeing two large towns in Kansas for new dinner churches. Someone from out of town was so excited about what was happening they want to go back to South Dakota and plant another and a Canadian visitor has said the same.

And it all started from one person giving 100%. “A pizza delivery job is funding a whole church,” said Rev. Huck. The result is that some people may be reluctant to ever enter an established church because they don’t know what to expect. “They don’t know how to go to church, but everyone knows how to eat!”

Jennifer Jones is the district administrator for the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church.