Gastrochurch: Where Are They Now?
By: Sherri Gragg
Rev. Meredith Mills had a problem. It was incredibly difficult to get her friends to attend church, and when they did, she felt they left again without ever digging into the deepest struggles of their faith.
So, she began to think, to pray, to dream. What type of worship would her friends want to attend? How could she incorporate deep teaching that met their needs? What would church need to look like to foster deep connections between its members?
And then it came to her. What if church looked more like the dinner table?
Mills just wrapped up gastrochurch’s first year of ministry. We caught up with her to find out what she learned along the way and what she hopes for the future.
Q: This is such a unique concept. Help us wrap our heads around how an evening at gastrochurch unfolds.
A: The gastrochurch model is very structured. I always begin with something along these lines- “The whole premise of gastrochurch is that much of your days are pretty meaningless. We don't talk about the things that matter most. Tonight, we are going to talk about those things.” Then I present a sermon in four parts, with a discussion question for each course. At the end of the evening, I offer an invitation to participate in communion.
Q: Give us an example of one of these topics for discussion.
A: In October, we discussed Martin Luther. Before we presented the appetizer, I said, “Martin Luther's story is the spiritual journey of someone who was plagued by guilt who came to grace. How big a role did guilt play in your childhood spiritual formation?”
Q: I bet that generated some interesting discussion!
A: I have had people tell me they can remember the questions from the gastrochurch they attended 6 months later and that they are still thinking about them. Something about the model works! Gastrochurch came about for a lot of reasons, but part of the theological underpinning was incarnating some of the themes of the Bible that we never talk about. It is the hospitality of inviting everyone to the table no matter what they believe, no matter what they have done. The dinner table feels different to people.
Q: Tell me about something you learned over the course of this first year.
A: The first year was really about experimenting with what is this model capable of. What we found is that we can engage with people who are longing, but would never walk in a church and we can engage them pretty deeply.
Q: Where does gastrochurch meet?
A: It depends. One of the things we have learned is that it is important to find a place that feels like neutral territory. It is really uncomfortable for someone who is non-church to walk into someone's private home.
Q: What will enable gastrochurch to take the next step?
A: In order to really develop community, gastrochurch needs to meet every week, but it is so much work to host a pop-up restaurant. We just can’t do that every week. We are praying that God will lead us to a Christian restaurant owner who will partner with us by hosting gastrochurch. Meeting around the table is the foundation of our faith. Learn more at http://gastrochurch.org/