Green Bean Casserole & Banana Pudding

Church Potluck: What’s the Deal?I’ll just throw it out there. Here it is. The burning issue of the day. I want this blog to be way ahead of the curve. I want us to tackle this hot topic here before The Christian Chronicle gets hold of it.

“The Growth and Decline of the Church Potluck”

I love a good church potluck dinner. Theologically speaking, I defy you to show me a better way for a church family to live out its divine call to meet, fellowship, encourage, and share. Is there anything better than sharing a common meal in potluck fashion?

What a beautiful church-as-body model. Everyone gifted with different gifts. Everyone bringing their best gifts to the common table. All those different gifts coming together in one extravagant embarrassment of a massive meal. Potlucks celebrate our different gifts. Potlucks recognize our diversity.

What a wonderful church-as-fellowship model. Sitting by and sharing a meal with brothers and sisters with whom you don’t normally spend much time. “Who made this cherry pie?” “Did you get some of this spaghetti thing?” “I have no idea what this is.” It’s amazing to me that younger people blame the older people for what’s wrong with the church and the older people blame the younger. But once we sit down to share a meal together, once we start to visit and talk about our kids and grandkids and vegetable gardens and vacation plans, we realize we’re all on pretty much the same page about almost everything. Potlucks foster unity.

What a wonderful church-as-sacrifice-and-service model. “No, keep your seat, let me go get you some napkins.” “What do you want to drink?” “Have you seen my kids?” “We need help folding up these tables and stacking up all the chairs.” “Let me carry that out to your car.” Potlucks foster Christ-like attitudes of looking to the interests of others.

I love everything—EVERYTHING—about church potluck dinners. We held one here at Legacy two Sunday nights ago. Over 400 people showed up. Tables and tables of food. We could have easily fed 800. There were entire tables of desserts that didn’t even get touched. We ate loudly. Laughing. Hollering across rows. We sang devotional songs together. Again, loudly. Enthusiastically. Something very basic, something very first-century-church about worshipping God together around the tables. We shared communion together. Again, something very, very first-century about eating the bread and drinking the wine in the context of a common meal; remembering our Lord as we consider his body, his church, our brothers and sisters sitting right next to us and across from us.

What’s not to like about the church potluck?

But church potlucks, I’m afraid, are out of style. Of the 400+ at our potluck last week, there was one group of people conspicuously absent: people my age and younger.

We have 80 in our Young Families class. (Don’t make jokes about my being in the young families class. As I recall, my parents kept going to the Young Marrieds class at PGrove even when I was in high school.) And I only counted five from that class who were younger than me at the potluck. There were plenty of singles there and lots of young marrieds without children. But it seems that couples in their 30s with young kids almost completely stayed away.

So, what’s the deal? More than anything, I’m just curious. Is the church potluck, even with all its (according to me, I guess) benefits of positive reinforcement of the Christian values we hold dear, about to disappear? Is it past its prime? Why? I’d like for everyone reading this post to submit some kind of potluck comment. What you like or don’t like about church potlucks. Why you go or don’t go to church potlucks. The good, the bad, and the stuff in that blue dish over there.

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Buddy HollyFor an excellent story on the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly 50 years ago, check out this link. Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall goes back to Clear Lake, Iowa—the site of that last concert and the place from where the plane both took off and crashed—and delivers a comprehensive look at all the events surrounding what he dubs “the first modern tragedy in America.” He interviews people who were at the last show and the man who leased the plane to Holly. It’s a long read. But it’s excellent.

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Bullet BobAnd, belated congratulations to Bob Hayes. I had him on my show from the end zone at Cowboys camp in Austin back in the mid-90s and called him “Bullet Bob” on the air. He corrected me, “It’s Blimp Bob now!” No, no. Hayes will always be the bullet, the world’s fastest human, the man who forced NFL defenses to come up with zone coverages, the original Cowboys #22. Roger Staubach or Don Meredith should introduce his representative in Canton this summer, not sister/half-sister/friend Lucille Hester. That’s eleven Cowboys now in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully Cliff Harris will be next.

Peace,

Allan

17 Comments

  1. Rob's Dad

    Bullett Bob – it’s been too long in coming. As great as Roger is, it would be extra special if Meredith gives the speech in Canton. Captain Crash is also way overdue but it will probably be the ridiculous Emmitt “We had some diamonds” Smith who goes in next.

    Love Buddy Holly but “the first modern tragedy”? Tap the brakes.

    Here’s my HSO on the potluck and I know I’ll get dogpiled for it. love the idea of the potluck but the food choices are awful. It’s usually something lumpy or creamy. There are excellent cooks out there yet the diversity of food doesn’t seem to be there. I didn’t grow up in CofC, yet I’ve heard and seen the “standard Church of Christ chicken enchiladas”. So if you are trying to make good eating choices, do you eat before you go? Or do you only eat your own food? And then there is the quantity of food -aren’t you suppossed to make enough to share which leads you to make things that can help stretch a budget (like chicken enchiladas or other lumpy and creamy dishes). I’m not naturally inclined to go to a potluck in the first place and when I factor in the food, it doesn’t work.

  2. Taylor

    I love potlucks. Always have. Growing up, my mom always took barbecue sausage and macaroni and cheese because my sister and I were such picky eaters, and she knew that we would at least eat those two things! I especially loved the dessert part of potlucks…

    One thing though – I do NOT love themed potlucks as it turns out. Nineteen kinds of enchiladas, twelve dishes of queso, fourteen pans of taquitos, seventeen kinds of salsa, and more tortilla chips than I could count… this does NOT elicit the same nostalgic memories of the potlucks I’ve always loved. Potlucks are the only time that it’s okay for me to have fried chicken, a taco, some lasagna, a scoop of mashed potatoes, a little corn, macaroni (of course!), some chicken spaghetti, and bread and call it lunch! And then there’s dessert…

    PS it took you a long time to post this. I’ve been holding this opinion in for an entire week.

  3. Michelle

    Well I have always enjoyed potlucks…but when we had marissa we weren’t able to go…eating for her is difficult..its takes too long she is done with in 10 minutes and we want to talk and eat slowly. so it ends up being fun for only one of us. Also I heard someone say that during winter season they don’t want to catch anything…many people cooking diff things.(the germs). I had never thought of that. Thats our problem…now it should end as she gets older.

  4. dbyrnes

    Hadn’t thought about the idea of food choice presented by Rob’s dad but it is interesting and could be another factor in the diminishing popularity of the potluck.

    Two others come to mind. First, and probably not as significant, is the idea that your potluck contribution should be something carefully created using your culinary skills. Last I read, we’re eating out like 40% of meals and I would assume that number is driven heavily by the crowd absent at the recent event. I’m not implying that age group is incapable of hand-crafting a tasty item but I think that the idea of spending a couple of hours coming up with something that will appeal to the masses is probably not a high priority in light of all the other activities taking place in the lives of those with young children. Again, perhaps this is a minor factor.

    Maybe it’s just time for a little re-tooling. As Rob’s dad implies, potluck may not create the same excitement for everyone – specifically young families. After reading your post I wished that we had been there. (For the record, it was an excused absence due to illness) Your excitement was not driven by the food but by the ‘first century church’ atmosphere. I personally have never attended a potluck where there was singing or communion. It was a prayer and an all you can eat.

    It sounds like the re-tooling may have already begun. The point is the fellowship, the communion, the worship. Bring your family’s favorite dish. Or just bring a bucket of chicken or a bag of BBQ because we’re going to eat too.

  5. Lazy

    OK…you want complete honesty?? The last thing I want to do on a Sunday afternoon is to prepare not one, but two, dishes to take to a potluck. It’s especially difficult to come up with something when it’s a themed meal. Call me lazy, but cooking just isn’t my favorite thing to do! Now if we could pick up something and bring it I would be more inclined to come. I also grew up with church potluck dinners..but I wasn’t the one doing the cooking. So there you go…complete honesty!

  6. Allan

    Complete honesty? That’s funny coming from someone who wrote those comments anonymously.

    Michael Hall’s point is that if the modern era began in 1950, which most historians claim, this was the first American tragedy in that era. Before the assassinations, before Vietnam, before anything else that would qualify. It’s a good story.

    I wondered if the fact that everybody eats out more and cooks in the home less is a factor for these younger families in staying away from the church potluck. Maybe I’ve just been fortunate, but I can’t recall any church I’ve been a part of that didn’t bring out wonderful dishes in massive quantities every time. We’ve always had plenty of great food. That’s especially been the case here at Legacy. I’d hesitate to criticize if I’d never attended one. This was the first all-church potluck dinner we’ve had at Legacy in at least nine years. And it was packed with twice as much food as we needed.

    The concern with germs, to me, translates into a mistrust of the cooks. How insulting to worry about the cooks in your church, your own brothers and sisters, and not think twice about the guys you never see behind the doors at Louie’s or wherever you ate last night.

    Taylor raises a critical point, though, which the anonymous commenter also picks up. We actually violate the very spirit of potluck when we designate a theme. There’s no chicken leg or meatloaf or macaroni or hamburger helper when the theme is TexMex. Or green bean casserole. That’ll change for the dinner on February 22.

    Bottom-line—and I’m glad Byrnes picked up on it—the food is secondary compared to all the wonderful things that happen at the church potluck.

  7. Rob's Dad

    Everyone knows the modera era began in 1920 because that is when the Great Game says it began. Anyone who claims 1950 needs to get their head right with ball.

    Remember that you asked about what people liked or didn’t like, why did you go or not go. Meatloaf, mac and cheese, green bean casserole (no doubt made with mushroom soup), mashed potatoes,chicken spaghetti these are not foods that get me fired up. Yet they are relatively easy on a budget and from a cooking/preparation time line. Give Lazy a break – everybody is tired. How many of the Mom’s work outside of the home compared to when you grew up yet they are still held to the June Cleaver standard? So they put their game face on and whip up something like the aforementioned lineup.

  8. Allan

    Never, ever criticizing what we have done or what we’re doing. Always, always calling us to something higher. Judy St. Clair, make me a T-shirt!

  9. andrea brightwell

    Ok Taylor and anonymous and the rest….. the themed potluck was created to ensure enough food is present at our potlucks. It has been the experience of the fellowship committee that when left to choice many frequently take the easy way out and bring chips,salsa and a bucket of chicken at best thus leaving us with few of the famed choices of our younger day potlucks. We are the end of the line and when there is no more food or slim pickings at the end of the line..our experiences have been somewhat unpleasant. so… i guess you could say we were covering ourselves. Its better to have 10 enchiladas than just one or none at all. Also, more choices make for slower movement through the line which usually leads to unhappiness or people not coming at all. Our thought was less choices, faster getting through the line.

    On a brighter note…I thought our potluck was fantastic and there was some great food and plenty of it. Maybe its time for less skepticism on my part. I realize we needed more places to sit and more space for food. I was blown away by the number of people that came. For february if its ok with Allan, lets do it the old way a true potluck and see how it goes what do you say?? And Stanglin we have had potlucks in the past 9 years. this is not a new thing for Legacy we just dont have too many all church potlucks. We only have 1 oven and 1 warmer… gotta keep the food safe for Rob’s dad….
    Eating first worked great in keeping things warm. We’ll keep trying to get it right. 🙂
    And for those who always cook and send numerous culinary delights and shower the fellowship committee with kind comments and always help us clean up – Thank You!

  10. Melanie

    Here’s my two cents:

    From organizing a potluck every 5th Sunday for two years at a previous church (where we both attended) here are a few negatives.

    1. I and a co organizer always broke the bank making extra dishes. There were moments where a last minute chicken run occured. Potluck mentality growing up was to bring enough for your family and then some. This is not true today. Some families ( and I only saw this among our age group) conveniently forgot each potluck and yet still ate. As well, as some bringing one can of green beans for a family of 6.

    2. Bugs! I know this is not the case in most places, but we had issues with two families bringing items that when the crockpot bag was unzipped or the casserole taken out of the towel, little roaches were soon to follow. These were addressed with much grace and love and ceased to be a problem.

    3. Rudeness!(again by our own age!) Again growing up the mentality was to let the eldest go first. Not so in more recent potlucks where there was a fight to go first lest the devilled eggs be all gone.

    4. Set up and Clean up were done by very few when the potluck was done! This was fixed by approaching and just asking certain people to stay and help.

    I will say that I do still love potlucks and the fellowship it brings with those I don’t normally get to associate with on such a personal level. There is a great closeness that comes with eating together. I love to hear stories from young and old and this is a wonderful opportunity to do so. While potlucks at that point in time were hard to pull off, they were still rewarding and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

  11. Ricky - Gregs Brother

    Question isn’t the food just the vehicle? Isn’t eating with some one and sharing experiences the best part. Don’t get me wrong, I love the unlimited variety of ever kind of food and desert. But personally it’s about relaxing, sharing stories and listening to conversations. Even if you have to set with people that you may not know very well the food is the vehicle to get conversations started. Some of my fondest memories growing up at Handley C of C were pot lucks, ice cream suppers and watermelon feast. It was like having this huge extended family. Just ask Steve Pool. That’s how our families got to know each better then just casual acquaintances that we went to church with 3 times a week. We’ve known each other and have been friends for over 35 years. How knows if we would have been good friends this long if we hadn’t gotten to know each other better over a meal. If you think about it food is the great equaliser. When you share a meal with some one you are all the same. It doesn’t matter if your rich, poor or of a different nationality once you get to share a meal with them you will never forget that experience.

    I will through my hat in with the people about not having a theme. Can it really be a true pot luck with out a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken being on the table some where.

    As far as your question about young families goes. I think it’s more about being in there comfort zone. If they have kids they wonder what people will think about how they behave. They don’t want to be the only one with the store bought chicken. What they don’t realize is that we have all been there. We have all had these worries and gone through the same experiences. My suggestion is to have a pot luck at least once a quarter.

    Bullet Bob was a long time coming. But you could say the same for Drew Pearson, Cliff Harris, Charley Waters, Ed “To Tall” Jones, the list goes on. Here is my HSO; If not for three plays the Cowboys would have won 3 more Super Bowls. The double touch that wasn’t called against the Colts, Jackie Smiths unfortunate drop and the worst call of all Bennie Barnes stumbling and being called for pass interference.

    Congratulations to Gary Paterson on a Great Season and on a Great Recruiting class. Lets see how many big 12 teams really want to play the supposed step child of the South West Conference now. GO FROGS

  12. Lorie

    Don’t be too hard on the young families. Our family didn’t attend the potluck due to a sick kiddo. I think that counts as an excused absense. And I know quite a few other families that were experiencing the same thing that Sunday. Anyone who has a kid under the age of 8 (or 2 or 3 kids as is the case with most of us in the young families class) knows that this time of year chances are at least one of them is sick. It’s one thing to bring the healthy family members to church…it’s another to show up on potluck night with food prepared in a house where people are sick. Most of us aren’t going to do that (thankfully!!).

  13. Deanna

    We arrived at the potluck noticing the lack of young families. It made us sad and concerned that our entire age group was missing out on such a wonderful night. We were quickly greeted and hugged by many seniors who told us about their kids and grandkids as we stood in line. I felt like they were genuinely happy to have us there. Especially our kids.

    Sharing a meal, singing, praying, listening to children giggle in the back, looking around at the faces of our family that we love so much as we shared the Lord’s Supper – it was a great day that still brings tears to my eyes as I remember. I’m glad that my family was there. God was in that place.

    Here are my thoughts on the lack of young families:
    1. The only comment I actually heard about skipping the meal, was the germ factor. So, if it looks weird, don’t eat it! There were so many options! Besides, you can catch worse germs just by visiting a buffet or your kids school!
    2. We enjoyed our meal, but we did miss the fried chicken and homemade macaroni. Gotta love a traditional Church of Christ potluck!
    3. Young families show up when we have church catered meals. There are kids sitting in the floor all up and down the concourse. Maybe it is too much for parents with small kids to get there and bring 2 dishes to share.

    Just my thoughts…Bring on the next potluck!

  14. Shellie

    I think we should have a themed potluck with only Jell-o salads! Maybe we could win a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. I am opposed to the phrase “meat salads.” As far as the germs go–Does this fall under the category of “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”?

  15. Fred

    All of my comments should be taken in love.

    I found it interesting this particular post generated so many comments. Alan always posts great entries concerning our Christian life and they don’t generate the comments this light-hearted post did. Are we a peculiar people?

    I don’t like the themed potlucks either. This last one turned out great but I would prefer a greater mix of choices.

    We need to make sure vistors get a special invite. They need to be made welcome even if they didn’t bring anything. Members who didn’t bring anything need to feel welcome too regardless of the reason.

    I don’t know about the reason young families don’t attend. We usually attended when our daughters were young. A side note: parents need to be reminded to take there young children thru the line with them (dogs too).

    I didn’t notice, but were the singles well represented?

    I agree we need to be more thoughtful of others as we line up. There’s some scripture about this. However, due to our size it’s not workable for us to wait until everyone has gathered together to line up. Still it wouldn’t hurt to let others go ahead of yourselves.

    Just for Alan: No green bean casserole or banana pudding. However, Broccoli Rice and Cheese casserole is OK. How many variation of this dish are there?

    Love you all

  16. Timothy Sharpe

    I am totally inline with Allan on this topic. As for germs, the human body is full of them. It’s a natural part of your digestive system. Remember the Listerine commercials? (“Kills millions of germs on contact”), well there are 10 billion germs in your mouth that are supposed to be there as the start of digestion. You know I hate to be technical, but the real problem is when when the wrong germs get into the wrong place. BTW hand washing, normal cleaning techniques and automatic dishwashers do a beautiful job of handling these issues. If “perfect love casteth out fear” then a few germs are easy to take care of.

    The biggest concern is the fellowship.

  17. Jenn

    DUDE! I get back in town from a vacation and you slam us young ones for not coming to a potluck during cold and flu season? You have 3 kids, you remember what it was like when one of them got sick and then all of the sudden you would turn around and the other 2 are sick minutes later? YIKES!
    This is the first meal we have missed and we get in trouble…man, you are killing me here! You do know I’m kidding…a little, right?? he he he That was our excuse though, just blame it on Susie and the rest of the kids that followed later that night! 🙂
    I do have to say, once you get food poisoning at one church potluck (not here, mind you) you are a little leary of any potluck. Hence, I always bring a big try of PB & J for me and my kids!! 🙂

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