Small Church Collaborative - Sunday Worship

Small Church Collaborative - Sunday Worship

For many small churches there is a painful journey of dwindling resources—less time, less money, fewer volunteers. Pastors travel this path with congregations, trying to figure out how best to lead, how to discern God’s vision, and often, how to allocate their time.

Worship is about a quarter of a full-time call. Constructing the service, developing a sermon, working with a team or choosing music, and leading a faithful Sunday worship takes ten to twelve hours a week. For a three-quarter-time call that accounts for 33% of the pastor’s week; for half-time leaders, 50%. A Quarter-time call covers only weekly worship.

Worship is important. And small churches must ask if it is all they should invest in. If your congregation has decided on hospice—to stay alive for the sake of existing members—then regular Sunday worship is the most important part of being church. Using funds for quarter-time leadership for most Sundays is wise.

However, if your congregation seeks vitality it makes sense for your paid leadership to work with members on outreach, mission, and making connections in your local community. Ask yourselves what God’s abundance looks like in this place, at this time.

To free up time the pastor will need to let go of some Sundays. The congregation will need to consider alternative ways of dealing with worship. There are many options!

Some churches contract with another pastor for regular pulpit supply. Or the worship committee finds a different pastor for each open Sunday, offering the congregation a diversity of voices. To build-up theological depth and spiritual growth a congregation can engage in formation and skills training to create worship leaders from within.

In lay preaching courses congregants learn to tell their own story, and to connect that story to the biblical text. At one church a team of three lay preachers met once a month to choose which lectionary texts called out to them; the pastor took the leftover week. In another church several people studied worship leadership together and discerned roles based on their skills—presiding over the service, preaching, or leading the prayers. Depending on your church’s bylaws, a trusted leader can be approved to serve communion. This will be a chance to explore more about what it means to be the ministers of the church.

In the past year we have learned how to worship online. Church members can attend worship simulcast from another location, or attend in-person with lay worship leaders and watch the pastor’s online sermon together. Or project livestreamed worship into the sanctuary.

A church can take Sunday off, have bible-study Sunday morning, or gather for coffee hour. A church I know has breakfast together, followed by a mission project, once a month.

We have many options for Sunday worship. The challenge is to find the one that gives the church the best opportunity for being present in their local community. As part of the Small Church Collaborative congregations will discern what is the best path forward for their church. The priority will be identifying how to be the Body of Christ in their local community. To do that, they will need to be creative in how they live out weekly worship together.


Liz M. Magill

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Mae Magill (Liz) is a writer, pastor, and workshop leader living in Berlin, Massachusetts. She is the author of Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers:  Growing Relational Food Ministries and the founder of Worcester ...

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