For about six years, Ten Mile Christian Church on the outskirts of Boise, Idaho has served dinner before and after their Sunday night services. For $1 people can come enjoy pulled pork sandwiches, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, chili dogs, or pizza.
“It’s not fancy, but it’s good food,” said executive pastor April Alford. “There’s no concern about, ‘Am I going to make a mess?’ or ‘Do I have to act a certain way?’ It’s more like a great big picnic.”
More People to Meet
Complete with disposable dishes and plastic tablecloths, the informal setting helps people relax and enjoy the food together. Some of these people are fresh from work, grabbing a quick bite before worship. Some are waiting for Sunday school classes to start. Others are checking out the church for the first time.
“We make no effort to orchestrate anything,” said senior minister Steve Moore. There’s no formal structure to the dinners. People come and go as they please. Still, the staff and volunteers make an intentional effort to meet new people.
“Our staff roams around and sits with newcomers,” Steve said. “I try to sit by someone different every week. Over time you gain a lot of relationships.”
“I try to sit by someone different every week. Over time you gain a lot of relationships.”—Steve Moore
And in a church of about 2,000 people, there are always more people to meet.
“One time, I sat down with a family I didn’t know,” Steve said. “They’d been coming for years, and we just hadn’t met yet.”
Sometimes at a large church, it’s hard to make friends before you get involved in a small group or start volunteering. But these meals are open to members and visitors alike, and smiling faces serve every dish with a side of conversation.
“Everybody volunteers,” April said. “We schedule groups to serve the meal, and we’ve got about 70 volunteers. They banter and talk with everybody as they come through. It builds a lot of energy.”
That energy starts at around 4:00 p.m. every Sunday and lasts until 7:30. (Although Pastor Steve said if you show up early, you can still grab a bite.)
“You can even eat during the service if you want,” he said. “No one’s going to tell you that you can’t.”
After the 6:00 service ends, the staff all sit down for dinner together.
“I get done preaching after five times, and I’m bushed,” Steve said. “I just grab a plate of food and relax a little bit. I’m no cook anyway.”
Key to Growth
But from the beginning, the church dinner was about more than putting warm food in hungry bellies. These meals have played a key role in helping Ten Mile grow.
Six years ago when their morning services started to get crowded, the staff knew it was time to add evening services. And while the point of adding services is to create room for new people, first the congregation has to divide themselves between the services. In a way, dinner started as a bribe to get people to switch services.
“It’s allowed our church to grow 550-600 people,” Steve said.
It might seem hard to justify making that much food that often, but for Ten Mile, the growth they have seen makes this a no-brainer.
“We charge a buck, and it costs us about 25 cents more than that, but we serve a full meal,” Steve said. “So what if we lose 25 cents?”
New Building—New Opportunities
Church dinners have become a staple for this congregation. But food isn’t the only path to growth that they’re exploring.
Thanks to CDF, Ten Mile has a brand new building ripe with opportunity. Their facility is right off the highway, nestled in a desirable spot between several growing communities.
“We’re in the heart of the fastest growing part of Idaho, with the best location to access it all,” Steve said.
The church has a way to help the community deal with Boise's growing opioid crisis: their new building has rooms and parking the city would like to use to offer drug education classes, and the church staff is eager to be part of the solution.
Additionally, the church is grooming its fields to start hosting soccer, football, and baseball leagues, so young families will have even more reason to be there. The hope is that through the same intentional effort Ten Mile has applied to their dinners, these sports leagues can become a thriving ministry as well.
Ten Mile Christian Church isn’t just a popular spot to be at dinner time. They are well on their way to becoming a centerpiece of the greater Boise community.
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