Most people know that a megachurch is a term used primarily in the United States to describe a Protestant church having 2,000 or more persons in average weekend attendance for a church; however, not too many people know that microchurches also exist.
The Hartford Institute’s database lists more than 1,300 Protestant megachurches in the United States. According to that data, approximately 50 churches on the list have average attendance exceeding 10,000, with the highest recorded at 47,000 in average attendance for church services.
According to the Huffington Post, there are microchurches in the United States where the majority of North American churchgoers attend small churches of fewer than 200 members. Microchurches can be as small as one thousand square feet. That’s about the same square footage as two bowling lanes. Microchurches are that small for both economical and theological reasons.
St. Lydia’s is a five-year-old Dinner Church with only 1,000 square feet. Church officials say economically, that is all they can afford. Theologically, they have discovered that building big community happens on a small scale while there are 30 people sitting around dinner tables sharing a meal they’ve made together. This means members gather each week to share what is called a “sacred meal” as they have a worship service around the table. The meal is patterned after those shared by Christians in the first few centuries of the church, which evolved into our current day communion celebrations with participants sharing the bread and wine.
The Dinner Church has rented the small space for five years. This summer, the congregation moved to a storefront at 505 Carroll Street, Brooklyn, New York with services on Sunday and Monday. For more information, visit St. Lydia’s website.
Dinner Church takes place on a small scale where everyone is known by name. First-time visitors are invited to chop vegetables or set the table. The founder and other church members feel they are not lacking in anything even though they have no steeple, no bell tower, no rows of pews or stained glass windows.
Lydia’s Dinner Church is a church where space is directed people toward God, not by turning their eyes to a far-removed altar, but by turning instead to one another. The most dominant feature of the church is the table. The bowed shape ensures that everyone at the table can make eye contact with everyone else. Open shelves holding plates and glasses encourage newcomers to jump in and set the table. It’s easy to see where everything is stored so everyone can help. The Dinner Church is like a Montessori classroom where the design is to encourage interaction with both materials and people.
Sitting around the table is a way to encourage the people of God to see one another, face to face. Everything starts small in that small sacred space. Relationships are built around the table when a recent homeless man and the recent college graduate engage in a conversation. They may have passed each other on a street corner earlier during the day, but at Dinner Church they are talking over a meal. Later, they will do the dishes together.
Emily Scott, the founder of Dinner Church, believes to know others always takes place on the smallest level possible: one human sitting down with another. But in doing so, they encounter something really big: the limitless presence of God.