In 2013, leaders at First United Methodist Church of Brandon decided to try something new.
Looking to create a worship experience for a new generation and for people unable to make it to church on Sundays, they brainstormed. The result: the Table, a midweek service with the feel of a family dinner.
On Wednesdays, attendees eat together and worship together at this casual contemporary service.
I spoke to Ricc Conner, pastor of the Table, about the nontraditional Christian experience at the church and in general.
Conner, who began as a student minister at First United, also pastors Limona Village Chapel in Brandon.
Why did the idea for the Table originate?
The desire to do this comes out of our church's mission to make more and better followers of Jesus. We understand that many people in our culture have to work on Sundays and that a midweek worship service might be a good option. Since then, we've also discovered that the Table has been a great option for our volunteers who serve on Sunday mornings.
How is it different from traditional services?
I would say that the Table is different from traditional services in many different ways. First of all, we begin each evening around the dinner table together. We serve such things as barbecue chicken, tacos, Philly cheesesteaks, baked chicken and spaghetti and meatballs. The worship experience follows and is very casual. There is no dress code, just come as you are. There is a cafe in the worship space for people to get a cup of coffee or soda. Our music style is a worship band. We have a variety of instruments, and each week is different.
We think church should be fun, so it's not unusual to have some kind of fun element built into the evening. We make it a point to make sure that our messages are relevant to this generation. We usually have a four- to six-week message series. This past summer we did a series called Q&A where our attenders asked questions about God, Christianity, religion and so on and we spent eight weeks answering those questions. We are like traditional services in that we still pray together, sing together and receive an offering.
How many people on average attend?
Our numbers vary between 75 and 120.
What is the worship music experience like at the Table?
The music at the Table is led by Zach Alexander and the worship band. It is acoustic guitar driven with other guitars, bass guitar, drums, djembe and vocals. We try really hard to create a worship environment where people can have an experience with God.
Why do you think some people gravitate toward less- traditional services?
For the same reasons others gravitate toward traditional services: because that service speaks to them. While some enjoy more traditional services because of the familiar hymns that are sung, or the choir and organ, others enjoy more modern music being led by guitars rather than an organ. I believe that God can use both types of services and many others to reach people. I believe that people gravitate toward the Table because it is comfortable, casual and focuses on community.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Do mostly families and young singles attend?
Many people that come to the Table are young families and singles, but we also have 40-somethings and beyond that come, too. It's a great group of people.
What are some positive results you've seen since the Table started?
One of the positive results we've seen is the community that has begun. If you hang around the Table for any length of time, you will hear us say, "the Table exists so we can gather together, grow together and go together." Community has been huge. We are better together. During the summer, we have Summer Nights. Each Wednesday night during the summer, we have a family event after worship. We had such things as glow-n-dark kickball, trivia night and water night. It is so amazing to watch families come together and play together. We've also seen so many lives impacted because of what God has stirred in their hearts at the Table.
First United Methodist Church of Brandon is at 121 N Knights Ave. The Table begins at 6 p.m. Wednesdays. Dinners are $3.50. For more information, visit brandonchurch.com.
Contact Sarah Whitman at firstname.lastname@example.org.