The Power of Food and Community Formation


Food and small groups. To many of us they are probably inseparable. You can’t have a small group without food (it is after all the S of Saddleback’s HOST model). And where there is food, there is probably a small group.

But why? Have you ever stopped to consider the power of food in both bringing people together and tearing people apart?

This has been a question I have been wrestling with for a number of years. As a former professional chef, my love for food is rooted in trying to understand and teach others about the spirituality of the table. I am nowhere close to having all the answers, but the more I search both Scripture and other book, the more I realize just how integrated our eating and food habits are tied to our spiritual habits.

Sin entered the world through the eating of fruit. And since that time God has used food as a means to redeem his people (the Passover, the Lord’s Supper, and finally the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb). And all of this eating takes place in community; all three celebrations belie individualism. What’s more—it’s not just about my nuclear community; it’s about the world-wide community. We are joined to the Church universal, past, present, and future as we celebrate and remember.

Back to my question: But why? Why food?

In sharing food with others, we learn that we are sharing our lives with them. This idea is embedded even in our language. Take the word companion. Companion comes from the Latin com, meaning “with,” and panis, meaning “bread;” therefore, companion literally means one who shares bread. If you think about it, there is nothing quite like sharing and enjoying a slice of warm, fresh-baked bread smeared with butter and good jam. Or if you have ever walked into a home wafting with the smell of bread, your heart is simultaneously excited and relaxed. You somehow intuitively know you are in a good place.




“Accelerate!” is a small group strategic planning workshop for small group ministry point people and their leadership team. These powerful sessions will be taught by Saddleback Pastor Steve Gladen and other Saddleback small group pastors July 10 – July 12 at the Rancho Capistrano Retreat Center in San Juan Capistrano, California. REGISTER HERE


And God knew all of this when he sought to redeem us with the table being the focal point. He knew that as we gathered around the table, we would share our lives with each other and more importantly with him. We would learn and share the stories that matter most. As we share our stories, we are deeply affected by the presence of others who can help discern truth from lies that we have believed.

In his book, From Tablet to Table, Leonard Sweet writes, “But there is one thing that would dramatically change the world we live in and help return us to our rootedness in Christ: Bring back the table! If we were to make the table the most sacred object of furniture in every home, in every church, in every community, our faith would quickly regain its power, and our world would quickly become a better place. The table is the place where identity is born—the place where the story of our lives is retold, re-minded, and relived.”

In the coming months, I plan on continuing to blog about the power of food in community formation. And I would love your insight…

How have you seen food powerfully shape community, for good or for bad?


  1. Having a weekly potluck small group after church ( where the food was provided by 1/3 of the group on a rotational basis) was a wonderful experiment this winter. The food also kept our teens connected in as part of the group and was actually not a difficult routine to keep going. There was definitely an excitement each week to enjoy food and growth together. We put the emphasis on eating simply and healthily versus making it a coooking contest.
    It also encouraged people to attend the service prior to the group.

  2. I believe that food is a great way to bond people together and to develop community. However, sometimes food can be a hindrance in small groups. I had one small group that I helped to launch where the leader and I agreed that the group should meet from 6pm-7pm, and that the people would eat dinner after the group at their own home. The group would have some lite snacks at 6pm, but nothing extravagant. However, that soon changed into a full blown meal where the wife of the host ended up cooking for ten people every week and sent each couple home with lots of leftovers, After a few weeks neither the host or his wife wanted to continue the group because the burden of food had become so great on them.

    I believe that food is a staple of small groups, but it needs to be administered in a sustainable way. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to your future posts.

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