There are at least 5 particular strengths in small congregation worship. They are remarkable gifts that are largely unavailable in large-setting worship. What would happen if you started with these, instead of starting with your weaknesses?
1. Invoke local symbols and signs.
Signs and symbols communicate more deeply than any words. Large congregations must resort to least common denominator symbols and signs. Small congregations can invoke the specifics of each ministry context. It may take some time to identify these and understand how best to unleash them, but the payoff is enormous.
2. Build in Contact.
Teachers and neuroscientists have long recognized that the more we touch and physically engage something, the more powerfully it affects us. Small congregations have vastly more opportunities for this kind of embodied worship. Worshipers don’t have to watch someone else have all the fun.
“Dialogical” is a big buzzword in homiletics. Millenials would rather be preached with than to. Sermons should invite conversation and response, not silence them. And small settings are gold mines for dialogue in every worship element. Calls to worship, prayers, responses, litanies—and, yes, even sermons—can be crafted dialogically. The barriers for big places are many. The possibilities for small places are limitless.
4. Participation, Not Performance.
Active engagement (i.e., participation) forms people more deeply than passive observation (i.e., performance). And this difference is an enormous strength for small settings. An aesthetic of participation changes expectations in worshipers. It affects how they hear the music, take in the sermon and see themselves as part of the body of Christ, living and present right where they are.
5. Worshipers as Co-Creators.
Worship does not have to be an event imagined, scripted and led by experts. In small settings worship can truly be the work of the people. Laity can be more than participants; they can be essential co-creators whose stories, gifts, questions, gestures, bodies, voices and ideas effect the holy encounter for the community.