The sign reads, “Ham and Mashed Potato Dinner: Friday evening, 4:30 p.m. until it runs out.” The place: That tall steeple brick church set back from the busy intersection that has stood there since the town’s founders drove their wagons here. Price: Comparable to restaurant fare, only typically the portions are limited only by one’s appetite.
It’s a community dinner, and to accomplish it requires leadership, good planning, and lots of peeled potatoes. Is it a tool of community engagement? To qualify, it would need to strengthen connections with the community, improve the life of the neighborhood, or make a difference for those who live there.
Here are a few questions to ask about your community meal:
- What is its purpose? If the idea is to make money, have you considered other options? Perhaps a stewardship campaign, with church members asked to consider committing to an annual pledge, would be more effective. (Research bears this out.)
- If the purpose is to create a gathering space, have you considered other options? Perhaps a community dialogue around issues your neighbors care about, with abundant refreshments and a chance to vote on topics for the next forum.
- How much should you charge for the meal? Are you attempting to cover costs, make money, or make sure everyone in the neighborhood has access to a hot meal?
- Who is your “ideal customer?” Is it the young professional couple who might need a church community? Is it the elderly couple living apart from family and which prefers not to cook? Is it the single mother living in subsidized housing who cannot afford to pay?
- Who is being excluded by your decision to charge for the meal? Who is being excluded by your decision to hold the meal in a church building? Or your decision to serve red meat?
- Do you know who your neighbors are?
Photo: Morton Fox. 12.22.17. Flickr creative commons.