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How to Start a Dinner Club and Create Community

Women create community through Dinner Club

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how to build community after a big life transition. After my third child was born, I needed more consistent female companionship. I decided to organize a Dinner Club to build the community I wanted. I had first heard about the idea in Shauna Niequist’s book, Bread and Wine, where she wrote about her Cooking Club. (Watch this beautiful video about Niequist’s Cooking Club.)

In that video, Niequist said the following about her experience of community: “You say the things that you’ve needed to say for a long time, and you hear the things, maybe, that you’ve needed to hear for a long time. And the table creates that space, if you let it.”

If you find yourself desiring more community or a greater depth of community, you can be the one to lead the way in establishing the connection you crave. Rest assured – if you’re yearning for connection, no doubt others are, too.

Start with Your Why

As you plan your Dinner Club, it will be helpful for you to know why you want to start one. That “why” will inform your other plans moving forward. When I was parenting three children five and under, I was desperate for (uninterrupted) time with other women. I also desired a depth of spiritual community that was hard to come by in that season of life.

You might want to broaden your circle of friends, have an excuse to get out of the house once a month, or want to experiment with meals that your family wouldn’t eat. By naming what is most important to you about your Dinner Club, that will help you invite the right people and emphasize the right things.

Who to Invite

My Dinner Club is full of female friends. I’ve heard of other Dinner Clubs that are for couples. What you create is up to you. Although I would enjoy participating in a couples’ Dinner Club, what I most needed five years ago was female friendship. The logistics of childcare might also prove difficult for a couples’ Dinner Club.

When my Dinner Club began, the women I invited were all from my church. Some were already my close friends and others I didn’t know as well. You could invite women from work, your kids’ school, your neighborhood, church, or the gym. I wouldn’t worry about whether they all know each other; if they choose to be part of Dinner Club, they will soon! Additionally, you could invite the women you invite to invite a friend, further widening your circle.

For most of the last five years, our Dinner Club has had six to eight members. I would aim for four to ten participants.

The What, Where, and When

Our Dinner Club decided to meet one Friday evening a month. We take turns hosting, and the host gets to pick a theme for the evening. We’ve had Mexican, pizza, Italian, Middle Eastern, soup and salad, grilled food, seasonal favorites, and many more themes over the past five years. Each person brings a dish related to the theme. The host normally makes a main dish.

Because spiritual community was important to me, I specifically wanted to bring together a group of women who would share honestly about what’s going on in their lives, and pray for one another. The ability to share honestly (and confidentially) has made Dinner Club a safe place.

Obviously, you can be flexible when you create your Dinner Club. I’ve heard of Dinner Clubs where the host provides everything, which means it’s a lot of work when it’s your turn to host, but then you just get to show up most of the time.

If people in your group are adventurous cooks and eaters, then Dinner Club might be a fun place for all of you to try out your culinary chops. In our group, we have a couple of really excellent cooks, but most of us are pretty average home chefs. We love eating together, but we don’t emphasize the food as much as we do the fellowship.

If a once-a-month commitment seems like too much, you might try for every other month or quarterly gatherings.

Other Logistics

These are some other aspects of Dinner Club that you might have questions about.

  • We always take off the month of July. It’s nice to have a break – even from something you love – and summer is busy enough with travel that it made sense to pause.
  • In June, before our summer pause, we talk about who else we might want to invite to our group. Some years we have other women in mind and some years we don’t. The experience of Dinner Club has been valuable us, and we want to include other women in that circle. We try to balance having an intimate group with opening it for other women to participate.
  • Also in June, we allow anyone who needs to end their commitment to Dinner Club to do so. (Anyone can step away at any time, but June is a good time to transition away.)
  • We generally create our hosting schedule a few months at a time.
  • The host sends an email about a week before our gathering, announcing the theme and what dish she will provide. We “reply all” to let everyone know what we’re bringing.
  • As the founder of the group, I take charge of any kind of “housekeeping” discussions, including the hosting schedule, inviting new members, and group expectations. I sometimes remind the host to send her email.
  • I set the expectations of the group for all members, new and old. Expectations include: a commitment to attend whenever possible (and to let us know if you can’t); sharing honestly how you’re doing; and holding everything shared at Dinner Club as confidential.

Although the faces around the table have changed over the last five years, Dinner Club has been an important source of community and spiritual friendship for me. I value each of the women around the table and the gift they are in my life.

If you have questions about Dinner Club – or have participated in one – please share it in the comments!

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