A small congregation can be a needy place. Something always needs more. The building needs more maintenance. The food pantry needs more canned goods. The outreach ministry needs more staffing. The budget needs more money. The homebound and hospitalized need more visits. The pastor needs more time. Oh, yes, and another Sunday is coming up soon. How do you prioritize?
It’s actually pretty simple. Because worship isn’t just one more thing that Christians do. It’s the thing. It’s primary. Essential. We are, first of all, the people who worship the triune God. Worship is formative—it practices each of us into our identity as a child of God. Worship is constitutive—it creates the community of God’s people. Worship is normative—it hangs the plumbline that orders the rest of reality. Worship is transforming—it effects God’s reign as we rehearse its patterns among us. Worship is sacramental—it manifests God’s very presence with us. All other dimensions of the Christian life express or respond to this first truth.
It’s also practical in small congregation ministry. The Louisville Institute, after studying small congregations across the US, names it:
For most participants in US congregations, worship is the main event. While some participate in small groups within the congregation or serve the community through the congregation, the majority experience the congregation only by attending worship services. Thus what they get from their religious community must happen during worship. The results here . . . suggest that tremendous care, attention and planning should be directed at the worship service.
Feed people more in worship. And the rest of the mores will take care of themselves.
Characteristics of Communion-Loving Small Congregations
1. Communion is offered every week, not just monthly or periodically.
2. The communion liturgy is not an add-on to usual worship. It’s integrated into the service and serves as the climax.
3. The reading goes away. Some pastors memorize the liturgy. (Yes, you can do it! It’s easier than you think.) Some craft Eucharistic prayers alongside their sermons. Some sing the liturgy using one of many simple resources. Explore Youtube for options.
4. The elements and practices are lavish. Best bread—with crumbs worth eating. No pellets. And more like a celebration than a funeral. Think dinner party with dear friends gathered around a table. Not austere ritual by yourself at an altar. Remember, the resurrection wins completely!
5. Celebrate like the Early Church. For the earliest Christians, the Lord’s Supper was not a separate ritual, but a part of an actual, shared meal. Communion was a messy sharing. It accompanies all their interactions. The potlucks and gatherings after worship continue the communion celebration. Connect the Lord’s Supper with this congregation’s suppers. Bring the elements from the sanctuary and set them among the casseroles. Commune like the Early Church!
Communion is treated like a real, messy shared meal rather than a tightly controlled ritual.