The Problem with Potlucks

March 28, 2007 by

The potluck dinner is a staple in many churches, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. A longtime friend of mine (we bonded over Petra) has been blogging about food and condemned the potluck, pointing to the message it sends:

If food is relational what are we saying to our friends and neighbors when we invite them to church and offer them overdone Mostacholi à la bland with a side of 15 layer Jell-o dessert? Are there no cooks in the House, are we without culinary prowess?

Check out his entries on food being relational and spiritual for a little more context.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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8 Responses to “The Problem with Potlucks”

  • Jeremy Scheller
    March 28, 2007

    Your friend has obviously not been to a North Minneapolis Multi-Ethnic Church Potluck.
    Soul Food, Lutheran Hot Dish, KFC for the easywayouters, Pastor Smith’s famous chicken wings….
    mmm…good eats.

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  • Holy Cow!
    March 28, 2007

    I was just having a conversation about this. I used to smoke. I’ve heard alter calls for smoking. Smoking is bad for you, filthy habit, etc. etc.
    More people die from being overweight than from smoking.
    But when was the last time an alter call included coming forward if you were fat?
    Smoking and overeating are both dangerous addictions. But when was the last time church was concluded by everyone handing out cigarettes? Instead we setup piles of food.
    Personally, I don’t like the message it sends…gluttony isn’t okay, but is the potluck a celebration of that?
    And yes, I know I’m overreaching but it frustrates me that we, as christian, only pick on the sins that we are not committing.
    I know this isn’t really what Adam was trying to say…but it allowed me to step up on my soapbox…I’ll get down now.

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  • geoff
    March 28, 2007

    OK – I’m going to have to disagree with your premise. Since when did being “relational” have anything to do with being “professional”. My feeling is that part of the beauty of having everyone contribute into a meal together is the fact that it is imperfect, but that it’s honest. We can dress ourselves up as beautifully as we like, but in the end, authenticity has to win over window-dressing.

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  • Simes
    March 28, 2007

    ‘The problem with potlucks’ sums up the whole thing for me. Just what is the impression we give? I’ll bet that it’s served on paper plates, with soft drink (no wine of course) from plastic mugs to ‘save on the washing up’.
    If we are meant to do our best for the Lord, then we are setting a pretty low standard. We can’t even be bothered to serve food on china plates. It’s like saying to a visitor that they do mean a lot to us, just not that much.
    Imagine the last supper as a pot luck do. Paper plates, no wine, and everyone brought salad. Would communion still be the same with the orange drink and lettice leaves of Christ given for us?

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  • mike hosey
    March 29, 2007

    The idea that potlucks somehow show that we don’t value newcomers is at odds with my experience. Our church regularly has “potlucks”. We call them “Agape Feasts” though. We usually have a couple of hundred people in attendance. The meals are served on paper plates, and we do drink soda and tea. But the impression isn’t one of valuing newcomers. Rather it is one in which the church values Fellowship. Before I was a member of this church, I enjoyed these events greatly. In fact, they helped me decide to join. The reason isn’t that I got the impression that the church valued me as a new prospect, but that they valued my company. The events gave me the ability to network and meet all the active people in the church. Certainly, you must have a basic level of decent food, drinks, and tables to eat at, but after that the event is defined by the atmosphere and those in attendance, and not whether there are paper plates or catered pleasantries.

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  • Jan
    March 29, 2007

    We actually have started having more “pot-lucks” because we are finding that the people outside of the church are looking for community.
    Where do Americans connect? over the dining table.
    So, we’ve started “Friday Connect” as an alternative to bar hopping. People come, hang out, eat whatever we’ve got and play games or watch movies, sit in conversation or jam on their guitars. And we’ve had a significant number from this start attending church.
    Sooo… I say “pot-lucks” are offering hospitality and community to a world that has very little of this and wants it.
    As to the healthy thing… as far as I’m concerned, if your singles and young couples are bar hopping, but decide to come to a pot-luck instead, what is more healthier, a glass of soda or iced tea and a plate full of jello or a couple of shots?

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  • Jody
    March 29, 2007

    I used to go to a church where they have a pot luck every month. The only problem is, no one ever really brought anything. I mean, a few people did, but not everyone, so the food wasn’t enough to feed everyone.
    Instead of calling this problem to everyone’s attention, giving everyone a chance to reflect on this issue, the elders rushed out every time to buy economy sized packages of food, large platters of fried rice and burritos from local restaurants, etc. so that nobody would know there was a lack.
    This bothered me because of the lack of transparency and the immediate cover-up. It would have been fine to go in front of the congregation and say, “The elders have gone to buy more food for everyone, using church funds. We love having everyone for a potluck, but we ask that more people become involved in bringing something to share.”
    At the church I attend now there are some amazing cooks and plenty of food, but we are more excited just to hang out together.
    Last week we had a “park day” that was b.y.o.l.- bring your own lunch.

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  • Melissa
    March 29, 2007

    I don’t comment very often, but I have to jump in and defend one of my absolute favorite church traditions. I’m feeling really sorry for those of you whose church members just squeak by. My experience has been that everyone brings their signature dish, which makes for a very delicious evening.
    I oversee our newcomers’ ministry and I used to only ask members to bring food, but I found that the newcomers WANT to bring something. It’s a great way to contribute and assimilate into the community in a very easy and non-intimidating way. And you can get creative—our next potluck is a “Picnic in the Park”…

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