It’s Friday night and the tables are filled with friends laughing over some silliness, offering their compliments to the chef and sharing a lot of heartfelt conversation. This restaurant is very exclusive—the sanctuary of Community of Hope in Loxahatchee.
More than 80 couples turned out for the most recent Married People Night Out in February.
|Sports-themed games helped break the ice before dinner. The evening included a more serious subject of how to strengthen marriages. Date night is a quarterly event at Community of Hope.|
“That’s about all we can seat in our sanctuary,” said Beth Locke, executive director of Family Ministries and First Impressions. “I’m not good at turning people away so we fit them in. It’s a bit of a challenge with the food but we manage.”
The turnout is even more impressive when you consider that the church is in one of the most unchurched areas of the country, according to a Barna Group survey.
Locke said that when she and her husband, Dale Locke, were sent to Palm Beach County 20 years ago to start a church, they knew that only about 10 percent of the population attended services regularly. Part of their brand is “to interest disinterested people in Jesus Christ.”
“It’s a huge mission field,” she said. “There are a lot of people who have no Christian memory or who are disconnected. It’s cool to watch the lights come on when they hear that there’s a savior who loves them and wants to be in a relationship with them.”
The church has built its membership—now 1,200—by connecting people with small groups, which helps the church fulfill the second part of its mission “to grow together into fully devoted followers of Him.”
And that’s the purpose of date night. The quarterly event hosted by the church’s marriage ministry is built around the Orange curriculum—offering a strategy pack of downloadable materials for married people. “We have used their format and made it our own,” she said. “It comes with a lot of great resources and videos.”
Instead of a big annual marriage conference, the strategy uses more frequent, small group encounters.
Date nights, held quarterly, cost $30 a couple and includes free child care, which Locke said makes all the difference for young couples.
“We hit a nerve,” Locke said. “There’s a lot of interest. It’s non-threatening and fun. And people can invite their unchurched friends. It’s date nighty, not churchy, but there’s a solid message. Anyone would feel comfortable.”
Even couples in their 80s. “I was shocked by how many older couples wanted to come. They jump right in. They don’t want to be left out,” Locke said. “It’s been a wonderful way for our church to connect intergenerationally.”
The decor and games for this year’s events are all about sports—basketball, the Kentucky Derby, baseball and football. “We wanted the guys to feel comfortable,” she said.
Games help break the ice, and winners receive door prizes like gift cards they can use on personal date nights.
During dinner—prepared by a church member who is a professional chef—hosts at each table facilitate the conversation around the more serious theme of the night, strengthening marriages.
After dinner, there’s a message on the theme that takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
The themes focus on the Orange curriculum’s core habits: love God first, have serious fun, respect and love and practice your promise.
“Last year the themes were built around ‘with.’ For instance, practicing your promise when you’re not ‘with’ your spouse,” Locke said. “That was an excellent teaching that focused on our behavior and how we honor each other when we’re not together.
“This year the theme is ‘us.’ How to make time for ‘us.’ How to believe in ‘us.’ How to grow ‘us’ and mature in our relationship. And, how to fight for ‘us.’”
The dinners not only help to build stronger marriages but also build a stronger faith community.
“We believe that big faith is grown in small groups,” Locke said. “When someone comes to the church, we connect them to a small group, people who will come along side of them and do life with them.”
--Lilla Ross is a freelance writer based in Jacksonville.