The Dialogue Supper

As part of our efforts for A Passion for Life we’re launching a spring term of ‘manufactured‘ supper parties. Dinner Parties or the ‘DP’, as I like to call them, are all the rage in our neck of the woods! Not everyone has a house in which they can do this, but many have. And where we haven’t, we can be creative assuming, of course, that we like the concept.

What on earth is a dialogue dinner?

Obviously, it’s a dinner party with dialogue. But most dinner parties involve dialogue, don’t they? Not necessarily, you may be unfortunate to come to one of ours whilst I ride one of my favourite hobby horses. Then it’s all monologue! But the dialogue dinner is the name I give to a deliberately dialogical (!) dinner party at which some thought is given to the subject under discussion. The idea is that someone hosts a supper party at which someone else gives a brief talk from which discussion and debate might follow. For example, Rosslyn and I could host a supper party at which we ask Anne Atkins to come and talk about the place of religion in public broadcasting. That’d be fun. Anne’s a riot. She’s a draw in herself. And the subject is one that’s likely to provoke some healthy debate! But it doesn’t need to be quite so highbrow. You could have a Kentucky Fried Chicken basket, a handful of mates and ask someone to speak on the subject of ‘why’s God so hung up on sex?’

How could you do it?

1. Decide on a date. Friday or Saturday nights are best. But there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it on a week day evening if people are free and their weekends are chocker.

2. Decide on a venue. You need to work out who’s going to cook and where it’s going to be. Someone’s house is the best option. Cafes, pubs and restaurants are expensive to hire and lack the privacy necessary to encourage a comfortable exchange of views.

3. Decide on the guest list. You need to work out which friends you’d like to invite. You’ll need to let them know what they’re coming to. It’s just not fair to make them the target of a covert evangelistic hit.

4. Decide on a topic. You could go for a common objection like ‘how do we know that God exists?’ Or you could go for a current issue like ‘what responsibility do we have towards the environment?’ You could be bold and go for something more immediately connected to the gospel and deal with a question like ‘what is it that Christians really believe?’

5. Decide on a speaker. Brief them so that they know what you’re expecting and who you’re expecting. Give them some time to give the issue some thought and write a short; say 10-15 minute talk. They say something intended to stimulate discussion and then they manage the ensuing debate.

Why are you so positive about them?

I just think that they work really well in our context.

There’s a great dynamic. If people have chatted, shared a meal and enjoyed a drink together there’s already a positive atmosphere. If people have engaged with one another, laughed at the same things and genuinely shown interest in the other guests, then the environment is a good one in which to shift the subject onto more serious issues.

The seating arrangements work. If we’re all sat down around a table and so the shape of the gathering is good for interaction. I wouldn’t make the speaker should stand and I’d encourage them not to use notes. The normal kitchen table is usually the right size and a group of say six or more people can work really well.

The speaker is usually in a minority. As long as you don’t invite too many Christians, the speaker is usually heavily outnumbered by people who don’t share his view! That’s a good thing. He’ll cope. It means that the non-Christian doesn’t feel bullied or belittled. It encourages them to put him on the spot and defend his position. It draws out their questions and issues because they’re more likely to feel in the majority.

What are the key things to remember?

Prime the Christians to keep quiet. If you invite a few Christians then make sure that you’ve briefed them to keep quiet. They may know the answer to the question that’s been raised. They may be able to answer it better than the guest speaker. Live with it. Usually if the Christians start getting involved in the discussion it stifles the contributions from the non-Christians. And especially from the non-Christians that are genuinely interested in asking questions not just those interested in having an argument! I once spoke at a similar evening at which the Christians started tackling me on my views of Genesis 1. They were six day literal creationists. I’m not. It got ugly. And it was completely counter-productive for the non-Christians who were there. But I couldn’t keep the Christians quiet.

Prepare the host with a gift question. If after 10 seconds there’s been no question ‘from the floor’ then the host can ask a question designed to get ‘the ball rolling’.

Plan an end to proceedings. There needs to be a tension breaking activity. It could be cheese and biscuits, port and chocolate or simply coffee. But there needs to be something that signals the end of managed debate. If people are like a dog with a bone and want to carry on, then they can. If people want to listen in to others whilst they chew things over, then they can. And if others simply prefer to talk about anything other than Christianity, then they can do so without feeling condemned.

So where does that leave us?

Why not prayerfully consider the answer to these questions.

Where could you hold one?

Who could you co-host with?

Who could you invite?

What issue would interest them?

When will you do it?

4 thoughts on “The Dialogue Supper

  1. Phil C December 16, 2009 / 12:48 pm

    Perks, I think you might have assumed this, but what is the ultimate purpose of a dialogue dinner? To get people thinking about a particular issue? To enlighten them on how the gospel affects our thinking? To let them hear the gospel?

  2. theurbanpastor December 16, 2009 / 1:10 pm

    Phil I had thought that the name was a bit of a giveaway!

    The immediate aim is dialogue. The intermediate aim is engagement. The ultimate aim is that people become Christians!

    In the suggestions that I gave for talk topics I highlighted that there’s real flexibility. Do what you want. Just do something!

    It all depends on the crowd you want to invite, what their issues are and what would be helpful for them to get their teeth into.

    I’m not massively concerned what we do. But doing something would be good!

  3. Phil C December 16, 2009 / 1:26 pm

    Got it. I’ve just had a great idea for one!

  4. Lauri December 16, 2009 / 4:48 pm

    I think this is a great idea. It also, in some senses, fosters community, or an enlarging of community, which might be the unintended by-product of the evening. I also like that you set out the basics of a planned dinner party. Nagela couldn’t have done it better 😉 in my mind the key is not to fret about a goal… and I would also say that having a speaker isn’t a necessity. Having people around the table who can talk intelligently for a bit, about a given topic prompted by one or two questions would get the multi-logue going as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s