Monday, October 10, 2011

Dinner for Six :: Building Community

guest post from Barbara H. at Stray Thoughts

When I mentioned on my blog how much I enjoyed our new church’s Dinner For Six program, Carrie asked me if I’d write more about it. I am delighted to do so.

It was begun in our church by a couple who had had a similar program in the wife’s former church. It had originally started as a group of eight, but eight people for dinner usually drifted into two groups of four, so they changed it to a dinner for six.

The basic idea is that whoever would like to participate in the program signs up at church on a page where they list their name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. It’s good to allow a good two or three weeks of announcements (via church bulletin and/or pulpit announcements or however your church does it) for word to get out and for folks to have time to respond.

Then the coordinator pairs people up in groups of six. Usually these are three couple, but singles are welcome as well. Sometimes a couple of girls or guys will team up to provide a meal when it is there turn, or sometimes an older single person might just be grouped with another six, making their group seven – it just depends on the person and situation. The coordinator does try to mix up the ages. The idea is to meet people you don’t already know.

When the coordinator assigns the groups, she then notifies them by either e-mail or a printed card who is in each group. Within a group she lists the couples in order from 1 to 3 with their contact information with explanation that the first couple hosts the first dinner and prepares the main course, the second couple listed brings salad and bread, and the third couple brings dessert and beverage. The first family listed (usually someone who has been at the church longer or who has hosted “Dinner for Six” in the past) contacts the others to decide on a date for the first dinner. Then after the first dinner, the second couple listed hosts the next one, the couples rotate what to bring, and the date for the next dinner is decided on, usually at some time while at the first. And finally the third couple hosts, the others rotate what to bring, etc.

The dinners usually take place over the course of three months, each couple hosting once a month, then there is a month in-between for announcements, sign-ups, and creating the new groups, then the next groups of six take turns hosting dinner over the next three months, etc.

Also, since it is designed for adults to get to know one another and since there are other activities and fellowships at church for the whole family, this is designed just for the adults, and those with children are expected to find baby-sitters (except when hosting dinner at their own home, of course). However, exceptions can be made within a group if desired. For instance, in one of our groups, two families each had one teen-ager at home, so when each of them hosted they invited the other teen to come. In another group, the host family had a teen daughter who volunteered to watch the child of another family in a group so they didn’t have to get a baby-sitter. But usually parents ask family members to watch their children or trade off with friends or hire an older teen or college student for the evening. Individual groups are free to have full family get-togethers if they want to. That is just how our church does it: anyone adapting this idea can decide to handle this differently if desired.

So far in the three times we have participated, everything has gone beautifully except for the first time: with that group, we had and enjoyed our first dinner as scheduled, but the second month, the grandmother of the host family was severely ill, and they were unable to participate then. The last month of the three was December, and the six of us just couldn’t find a date with all of the other things going on that month that would work for the three of us. Finally in January, while the new groups were being formed, we scheduled a night to get together at our home. The wife of one couple got sick that day, but the husband decided to go ahead and come since we had had such trouble setting a date, and the third couple forgot about it completely (lesson learned – touch base with everyone a few days beforehand to confirm that the date is still good for everyone.)

So our initial experience was kind of a fiasco, but every time since then has worked out great. It’s understood that things come up and a group may not be able to meet three times within the given time frame, but everyone just does their best.

Overall we have really enjoyed the Dinner For Six program, especially as we were new to this church. It was an opportunity to better get to know people we had already met and to become acquainted with people from different ages and stages we hadn’t met yet.