Small is Different from Large: the 5 Strengths of Small Congregation Worship

Small is Different from Large

The 5 Strengths of Small Congregation Worship

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Good worship materials are good worship materials, right? If the resource works for Big UMC, then they ought to work for you, right? Well, actually no. And you’re not going crazy when your gut screams “I know it’s really great, highly produced quality stuff, but it feels . . . well, wrong here at Small UMC.” (You have a very articulate, insightful gut, after all.)

So let’s start at the beginning. Small is different from large. Because small congregations differ in culture, organization, demographic pull, theological approach, resources, challenges and strengths. You’re clear about that.

But most worship resources are developed with big places in mind. And this causes two particular problems. First, the easy one—the one you can name. Resources not tailored for small congregations overlook the specific challenges of offering lavish worship with fewer people, smaller space and simpler resources.

But now for the second, more troublesome problem–the one that makes you think you’re going crazy from time to time. Many resources developed for small settings are pathology based—that is, they represent fixes for specific problems or pathologies in the big setting model. They still assume that Big UMC is the gold standard for offering worship in small settings. Their goal is to plug the holes and transform you into a miniature version of big church. To do that, the focus stays on what doesn’t measure up rather than how small settings might offer something entirely different.

And here’s the rub. What works well in a large auditorium may sound flat, artificial or pretentious in a small setting. Highly produced worship resources may feel diminishing rather than lavish. A high production value can send a subtle message of “These aren’t your gifts” or “You couldn’t pull this off.”   It can make for bad theology as well as tepid worship.

So, you’re not going crazy. Small congregations aren’t flawed or pathology-ridden big places. They are distinctive entities with distinctive worship aesthetics and distinctive worship strengths.  They require different methods, tool and patterns. They need innovating rather than simply franchising.

Paper Bag Cathedrals wants to explore this question: What are the distinctive worship aesthetics of small congregations—and what could happen if we crafted worship for them by starting with the strengths?

What does your gut say?