New ‘Dinner Church’ effort in Hartsville to launch thanks to $10K FOE grant

By Jessica Brodie

HARTSVILLE, S.C.—A new effort to reach out to unchurched people in the Hartsville area is getting a much-needed grant from the Foundation for Evangelism.

The Hartsville District Cooperative Parish is among 51 churches selected to receive an Equipping the Local Church grant to launch an experiment or initiative to share the Gospel, tell their faith stories and invite others into a relationship with Jesus alongside a local faith community.

The parish’s effort is called Dinner Church and is an effort to reach 18- to 45-year-olds in a nontraditional setting, said Dr. Reginald Lee, supervising pastor of the four churches comprising the Hartsville Cooperative Parish: St. John UMC, Lamar; Wesley Chapel, Hartsville; New Providence UMC, Darlington; and Tabernacle UMC, Hartsville.

Lee said they are hoping to launch the effort in mid-September and have already received the grant funds, totaling $10,000.

They are seeking a site and plan for it to be at a coffee shop or restaurant—what Lee calls a “neutral space” that will be “seeker friendly.”

As Lee says, “The truth is, our churches are barriers for evangelism in the 21st century.”

Many people experience fear and anxiety about stepping into a traditional church setting, so a nontraditional space can help ease them into church without the emotional baggage.

The service will be an eclectic one, not a “normal” Methodist service with all the liturgical rituals, making sure to include a time for fellowship, dinner and building community.

It will be intentionally multicultural and multiethnic and advertised as such to people in the Darlington and Florence communities.

“We’ll keep the format simple—gathering, grace and meal,” Lee said. “Near the end, a message, and before the message, good music that will change from week to week, contemporary gospel, traditional gospel, hymns, etc.”

Lee said the idea grew out of a trip to Atlanta he and others in the Hartsville District Cooperative Parish took with Dr. James Friday to spend the weekend with the Net Church, a new multisite church in Gwinnett County. One of their four campuses started a dinner church, and the Hartsville District Cooperative Parish team was inspired.

“It’s a simple model, andwe hope to design ours similarly,” Lee said.

The Foundation for Evangelism grant recipients are from nine Wesleyan-tradition denominations across 24 states.

Other projects range from children’s after school programs to experiments with local community participation.

The Foundation for Evangelism is a Wesleyan-tradition grant-making organization located at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Chartered in 1949 by Dr. Harry Denman, then the General Secretary of the Board of Evangelism of the Methodist Church, and a group of visionary laymen, it was designed to “diffuse the blessing of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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