Chicken and dumplings

My wife and I were watching the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives last night when it sparked a thought about church.

If you don’t know the show, it visits mom-and-pop restaurants all over the country. They talk to the customers and show some of the signature dishes being cooked. You generally feeling like you are putting on weight and your arteries are hardening just by watching.

But here’s the part I noticed. Nearly every place they visit has been there forever. The common story line is that such-and-such a place has been cooking the same food for generations. When there are new owners, they always talk about how they didn’t change anything. The customers always include folks who have been eating there for their whole lives.

Does this sound much like church to you? Especially small churches?

Here’s the trick, though. These diners, drive-ins, and dives get on TV and have packed tables. They are like the small church that once had 150 people in the pews each week and still does. Most of our small churches are more like the whole-in-the wall diner that barely stays in business. Sure, the people are friendly and the waitress knows your name. They never fail to serve a meal. But the only ones who show up are die hards.

What is the difference?

The places that end up on the TV show are all – so far as I can tell – in or near big population centers. Last night it was San Diego, Chicago, and Atlanta. So, they have a large audience to find the people who want old-fashioned artery-clogging goodness.

But the food is also great. It is not just chicken and dumplings. It is fabulous chicken and dumplings that is still fabulous 80 years later. “That’s the best (fill in the blank) you’ll find anywhere,” is a common refrain.

Most small churches can’t do anything about where they are. You can’t move to San Diego. But I wonder if more of us (now that I’m back under appointment) could take steps to make sure the things we do are as good as possible.

We fall into the trap of thinking “good” means whatever is new and hot. Little churches try to become little Willow Creeks. What if, instead, they tried to make the best old-fashioned chicken and dumplings ever? If you are going to be homey and small and family-style, can we put our energy into being the most homey, small, and family-style church anywhere around?

I’m not exactly sure what that means. Something different at every place most likely. But it seems like a reasonable goal.


7 thoughts on “Chicken and dumplings

  1. I think you’re onto your marketing messge here. Drop “old fashioned” because that scares Boomers, but homey, small, and family are probably words that speak to the emptiness that people feel today. Just like those mashed potatoes and dumplings feed an emptiness in the stomach, the church needs to fill an emptiness in the chest, and I believe it is the small church that is able to do that best.

  2. Frequent pastoral changes make it hard for the small church to excell at anything in particular. It’s a shame, really – because if each one found it’s niche & sought excellence, the analogy would hold true.

  3. i would suggest the common denominator for both places of food industry and small membership churches is that the community of each is very clearly defined. there are the *regulars* who eat there everyday or on the wednesday of each week…the church analogy being those who are the regular attendees…the visitors sense the “belonging” and “newbie/guest” dynamic that is natrually a part of every community, just more defined and sensible in smaller congregations…and thus it is extra challenging to make visitors feel as welcome and comfortable in the community as the established patrons/members. the difference in larger churches is the possibility for anonymity or less defined sense of “belonging” and “guest”….insider and outsider. that is why hospitality in its most radical forms is so important and also so challenging for all churches, but perhaps moreso for small membership congregations. peace and all blessings…always, all ways, Gary

  4. In 1964, when I was on my way to Valley Forge for the Boy Scout National Jamboree, my troop toured Philadelphia. We were given the opportunity to eat lunch wherever we wanted and my patrol found a great little “mom-and-pop” restaurant. Memory tells me it was nothing more than hole in the wall but it was an absolutely fantastic place for a bunch of 13 year olds.

    The key thing was that we made to feel welcome and the invitation was to come back.

    Too many churches don’t do that. Oh, they welcome the visitors but not in the sense of making them feel welcome and inviting them back. It isn’t what the church does because it can really do just about anything it wants, as long as what it does is part of that welcoming and invitation. No matter what the size of the church might be, if a church is known for something other than being a church, then it isn’t a church but something that just happens to be open on Sunday.

    I was taught something a long time ago about visitors. Every visitor needs a call back and a letter but the call back and the letter need to come from a member of the congregation and not the pastor. The pastor will call but after the member has made contact.

    That’s were I think where many churches are lacking.

  5. You bring out good thoughts concerning small churches of which I belong. Not sure what our speciality should be but will do some brainstorming to see where we stand. Thanks again.

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