The BBQ Church Experience: WOW! A Place Where BBQ & Worship Meet

What I Love about BBQ Church –                                                

By John Vest on Jun 10, 2015 06:42 am

Two years ago I orchestrated a “BBQ Church” worship experience at the Fourth Presbyterian Church afternoon jazz service. The liturgy was modeled on “dinner church” services at St. Lydia’s in New York and Grace Commons here in Chicago. The jazz worship team thought it would be fitting to do this again for my final worship service at Fourth Church. So I slow smoked a bunch of pork shoulder in the church courtyard overnight and provided some simple sides. Some people brought additional sides potluck style. Rain prevented us from doing the service outside, but it was actually kind of fun to be squeezed into the church dining room with Fourth’s amazing jazz band right there among us.

Photo by Hardy Kim
Photo by Hardy Kim

Once again, I loved this service. My last morning worship services and the congregational meeting that dissolved my call were emotional and poignant, but with BBQ Church I ended my tenure at Fourth my way, with a bang. Here are some highlights:

  • The atmosphere was totally casual and relaxed. People chatted as they gathered and the jazz band played the prelude. They lovingly booed me when I mentioned it would be my last service. In some ways we were making it up as we went along, and that was perfectly fine.
  • It was among the most diverse congregations we have gathered at Fourth Church. There were jazz service regulars, folks that showed up for my last service, tourists and other folks who wandered in off the street, and guests of Fourth’s social service center who joined us and felt right at home.
  • People were having fun. Folks clapped their hands to the music. Some people raised their hands in praise. (That doesn’t usually happen at Fourth Church.)
  • It was interactive and prioritized conversations around the dinner tables. At the beginning of the service I invited people to share things they were thankful for through mutual invitation. I delivered a short sermon followed by an opportunity for discussion. The prayers of the people were done around tables, again by mutual invitation. I loved seeing people engage this way, especially the tables that most reflected the diversity of the congregation.
  • We felt like a community. Something special—indeed, something sacred—happens when people gather around common tables to share a meal.

I could worship like this every week.

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