St. Luke's Dinner Church - Gathering Re-imagined


Doing church well often means looking at what we are currently doing and re-imagining it to help more people. We all have activities or evenings at church that have always looked a certain way, yet week after week fewer people are showing up. St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory first started looking at doing church differently when they partnered with Westview UMC to help revitalize a dying congregation. After seeing what a difference a dinner church made at Westview, it was decided that St. Luke’s needed to be revamped as well. St. Luke’s is one of those churches that has a country club in its back yard, and across the road out front there is poverty and families in need. The staff at St. Luke’s realized that their steeple was facing all types of people, so they started to talk about what they could do to be more fruitful in their neighborhood. While Wednesday nights used to just be a fellowship meal, they have since renamed it The Gathering and turned it into a community that was open to all people from babies to the elderly. They did not want this to be another place where you could have a free meal, but only after staying to be preached at, but rather a place where you can gather and meet people in your community you otherwise might not notice. 

St. Luke’s decided that they wanted this to be more intentional than a normal Wednesday night meal, so they decided to hire a hospitality person. This person’s budget comes from their regular offering, but they did get a grant to help with other costs. They are hoping that since this ministry has become so popular, that one day they will not need a grant at all and can keep it going off of donations. The hospitality person that they hired is not just someone who fixes the food, but he spearheads the themes and ideas - making sure they are good for both families with small children, high school and college students, and adults. Once they hired him, they began to see more and more fruit. At their first meal they had one hundred twenty people in attendance.  The idea of The Gathering had sparked enthusiasm for people to be together, going beyond it just being about dinner. People just wanted to be in fellowship together. And it was a bonus that the food was amazing, and the devotions and games went right along with the theme. 

By deciding to mix things up, St. Luke’s saw their old fellowship night transform into a community event. All of a sudden, people who had never spoken before were sharing a meal. You would see a CEO of a corporation sitting next to someone who didn’t know where they would sleep the next night. There were people grieving loved ones who found community; elderly singles began to join; and all of a sudden they had around 210 people at the dinners. 

So what helps make this dinner church so successful? For one, the members of St. Luke’s, not just the staff, are passionate about what this means for the community. Aside from the food, everything is volunteer. Regardless of age or skill set, there is a place to serve at The Gathering. Sunday School classes volunteer to help, and the senior pastor built a team of people whose sole job is to wash the dishes. St. Luke’s has also found it helpful to have formed a steering team of ten people that meet once a month to check in with how things are going so that they can continue to grow and adapt to what the community needs. 

Resources for Vital Congregations



Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor

GBHEM Leadership Resources


Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church

Englewood Book Review

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

Ted Talks: The Golden Circle

Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability

Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability

Design Thinking

Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians


Be A Disciple

A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network

Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations


Living As United Methodist Christians

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials

Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today

John Wesley Sermons: Anthology


Get Their Name

Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit

Canoeing the Mountains

Fresh Expressions

Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples

Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People

Community: The Structure of Belonging


Institute for Emerging Issues

Congregations 4 Children


The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants

The Duke Endowment


The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:

  • Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
  • Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.

We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at


  • Resources
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