Whatever Happened to Potlucks?

The scene was all too familiar.

It was a regular event almost every Sunday night. We would roll into the church parking lot in our Dodge van, with four balding tires. The van contained four starving actors, Christians on a mission, performing plays for the Kingdom. We quickly sprung into action, preparing for our performance that evening. While we gathered props and turned the chancel into a stage, our audience would arrive (the members of the congregation) heading for the fellowship hall, carrying dishes of food covered in tin foil. Then the smells of hot coffee would begin to waft down the hall and into the sanctuary. Ah yes, hot coffee mixed with another all too familiar odor of tuna fish casserole. It was time for another church potluck dinner.

The potluck dinner, a staple of Christian performers and speakers. I grew up with church potlucks and they evoke warm memories of my childhood. The potluck dinner was an opportunity. An opportunity for the congregation to sample each other’s culinary delights (no matter what you add to a tuna fish casserole it still tastes like tuna fish) not that I am complaining, mind you). An opportunity for fellowship and for building community in the congregation.

An opportunity for the speaker/performer because the serving of food almost always guaranteed an audience. It is an opportunity that seems to be turning into a thing of the past. Whatever happened to all those potluck dinners?

The scene described above was common for me in the ’70’s and early ’80’s when I traveled in a repertory company. As a performer I have a love/hate relationship with potluck dinners. I loved them for what they were, food, fun and fellowship. I hated them because they were always just before a performance and it’s not easy performing on a full stomach. (Just try to turn down food at a potluck when you are the guest of honor) it doesn’t exactly endear the people to you!)

We depended on potluck dinners not only for a free meal but also for income. When you travel in Christian ministry, Sundays are “prime time.” We had to find a place to minister both Sunday morning and evening. It was a matter of survival as each performance also meant another offering, which in turn paid the bills of doing ministry. Today fewer and fewer churches are holding evening services and not surprisingly, there are fewer potluck dinners as a result.

Potlucks are a part of our culture; a culture which is constantly changing. Many churches have replaced evening services with small group meetings in homes. Not a bad thing; it accomplishes much of the same objective as those potluck dinners. There is certainly fellowship and often food and fun. Perhaps these groups offer even more; the chance for in-depth Bible study. But a part of me still misses the potlucks of old.

There is an alternative which is growing in popularity. We get an increasing number of requests for Dinner/Dessert Theatre. The focus of these events is a bit different. The goal is outreach rather than fellowship (although there is fellowship as well). These events are designed as an opportunity for the members of the church to invite their unchurched friends to an evening of entertainment with a purpose. Some are willing to come to these “non-churchy” events, people who might not otherwise darken the door of a church. After seeing the church in this new light, individuals may be more willing to consider coming to church on a Sunday morning. It is about building bridges into thecommunity (certainly a worthy goal) and it is working for many churches. These evenings have a touch of class to them and the approach is not to hit people over the head with the Gospel, but rather to do productions that raise issues (usually with some humor) and reveal some aspect of God’s truth. They provide the church members a chance to share their faith in a non-threatening environment.

Many of the plays in our repertoire are perfect for this setting. The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass is some of the finest Christian humor you will find anywhere. A.D.Something is probably the most entertaining of the shows that we have offered, with an excellent blend of music, comedy, drama. For something a little more serious, Calvin Miller’s The Valiant Papers is an excellent story on the human condition and our need for God.

One other nice thing about these Dinner Theatre events; I have yet to be served tuna fish casserole! If you would like more information about how you can bring one of these productions to your church for an evening of Dinner/Dessert Theatre, give us a call at 503/399-0415 or e-mail us at chuck@mastersimage.com.

(Oh, and we will still do potluck dinners, tuna fish and all!)

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