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Popular restaurant forms backdrop for church outreach

Popular restaurant forms backdrop for church outreach

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Popular restaurant forms backdrop for church outreach

Nov. 2, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0566}

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

BRADENTON — Sunday afternoons after church are usually reserved for naps and televised football games. But Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton came up with a unique way to keep its congregation interacting after the worship services ended.

“We were going to do a car wash, but we wanted a more clever idea, something more creative,” said Jill Bayer, the church’s events and outreach team leader. 

Members of Harvest United Methodist Church reserved their local Carrabbas Italian restaurant for lunch for the guests they had invited to worship that morning. It was part of the church's effort to reach out to its community during September's Open House Month. Photo courtesy of Harvest United Methodist Church, Photo #06-456. Web photo only.

No spray hoses and soap suds for these worshipers. One Sunday early this fall they feasted on Chicken Gratella, pasta and salad at Carrabba’s Italian restaurant.

The meal was part of the church’s “One2One” Sunday held in September to coincide with Open House Month. Each September churches across the denomination are encouraged through the national Igniting Ministry campaign to be more intentional about inviting people to church through special events or outreach efforts.

Harvest’s members were encouraged to invite friends, family members or neighbors to attend services and then go to the restaurant for lunch. The church made arrangements with the restaurant to have three seatings, and Harvest families paid for their guests at a cost of about $5 per person. The Rev. Steve Price, co-pastor of the church, said the goal was to help the guests “get to know other Harvest folks.” 
Amy Reasor’s been a member of the church for four years. She took advantage of the opportunity for fellowship and friendship. “We got to meet different people we don’t see, and we did it in a more casual atmosphere,” she said. “We brought our neighbors, and I think they might come back.”
The outreach effort was a success, according to organizers, with several families attending after the Carrabba’s outing. “I’m pleased that Harvest folks were able to give guests more of a feel for the people, personality and hospitality of Harvest,” said the Rev. Catherine Fluck Price, co-pastor of the church.
Beth Saalman attended the lunch with her husband and 9-year-old daughter, Kelsey.  She said she and her family have tried other churches, but something keeps drawing them to Harvest. “My general impression is that everyone is welcoming,” she said. “It’s hard to be the new person sometimes. And it’s good to see there are other families with kids.”
More and more churches are brainstorming ways to effectively share the Gospel, attract new members and keep them. Harvest chose to think outside the box. “At church, the focus is on worship,” Price said. “You may share a conversation before and after service for a few minutes, but this gave them in-depth time, an hour to sit down and have a conversation.”
Natasha Sinclair has attended the church for two months. “I love this restaurant, and it’s good to mingle,” she said. “We’re committed to being part of a church family.”
This is not the first effort the church has made to reach out to its congregants. Members “sew seeds of faith” by delivering a basil plant to the door of every new member. “We hope they’ll feel the spirit of the church and want to be a part of the message we’re sharing,” Bayer said.
Trudie Lee was visiting from Canfield, Ohio, with her son and daughter-in-law. The concept of the Carrabba’s lunch as an outreach tool intrigued her. “Any time you bind people and they can share, it’ll grow the church,” Lee said. “People feel more comfortable after fellowshipping. If we move here, I’d want to attend Harvest.”


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.