For years, Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Amarillo, Texas, held Wednesday night dinners for the congregants.
But that changed after church attendance began falling, says member Suzy Compton. “We were losing a lot of people and didn’t have a lot of young families attending.”
Eventually, the church discontinued the dinners. But as church membership continued to tumble, Saint Paul’s mission team began brainstorming ways to attract more people.
That is when Compton, who once worked in the food service industry, came up with the idea of hosting free community dinners modeled after a similar program at another church.
Saint Paul held the first dinner––dubbed Neighborhood Table––last fall. Today, the church hosts Neighborhood Table events most Wednesday nights, serving close to 100 people thanks to dedicated church volunteers who cook, set up tables and clean up afterward.
“It’s always a full meal,” says Compton. “One lady calls around and gets different people to make desserts. Everything else is prepared in the kitchen at the church.”
The hospitality team places cards on the tables for diners to fill out to submit prayer requests or ask for more information about the church.
“[The hospitality team] is there to get to know the people and find out if they have some kind of need,” says Compton.
One couple traveling through Amarillo heard about Neighborhood Table and stopped by for a meal, Compton says. As hoped, a few guests made their way back to the church for Sunday morning services.
But besides attracting new guests, Compton says the dinners provide opportunities for members to help local families facing food insecurity. Volunteers even deliver hot meals to people confined to their homes.
“I feel like God sent this to my heart to do,” says Compton, “But this involves so many people, almost the entire church, and they want to make this a success.”