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Jan. 10, 2022

The Participation Advantage: A Small Congregation Superpower

It’s this. Big congregations are forced to maximize predictability and minimize participation. In order to calm the anxiety of big groups, the possible contribution by any worshiper must be dialed down. Or eliminated. So the event occurs exactly the same way whether or not any particular person is present. And so the event can be repeated effectively at 10 and 12 o’clock.   

But this maximized-predictability-minimized-participation comes with significant costs. Both practical and theological. 

Practically, it strips the tools of robust, embodied participation. Ask any educator or neuroscientist. Participation is a powerhouse of formation. Passive observation is a distant second-choice. To make up for this distance, large congregations have shifted to a certain kind of performance excellence. With experts designing, coordinating, producing, speaking, and leading.

But the theological cost may be even greater. 

Our incarnational good news often speaks clearest by maximizing participation. Especially the participation of folks who aren’t experts. Like that rude roadside beggar. Or that uppity anointing woman. Or the curious kid who ignored the grown-ups-only rule. Jesus’ ministry is chock full of interruption, mess, and unlikely bodies who changed—and were changed by—an unexpected encounter. In holy, unpredictable ways.

Featured image for “Part 1: A Plea for a Different Way–The Blog That Will Get Me into Trouble”
Jan. 03, 2022

Part 1: A Plea for a Different Way–The Blog That Will Get Me into Trouble

Here it is. We have normalized big-congregation practices and expectations. We have made them the ideal, the goal. And we have disregarded small-congregation differences as mostly irrelevant. Or generally unpromising. Or signs of failure.

It’s the kind of thing that can happen when excellent resources get developed in large congregations, for large congregations, and by pastors who have served only . . . large congregations. A particular kind of excellence limits other possibilities.

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Dec. 27, 2021

Traveling Communion Set: Replacing Efficient with Lavish

Sacrament is so big. And that rectangular box is so small and full of shortcuts.  

Perhaps preparing this basket is a little more effort. Maybe a little less convenient. But grace never worried about effort and convenience anyway. And remember that preparing this basket each week might be a treasured ministry for one of your lay leaders. They can pray and prepare for each one to be served lavishly.

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Dec. 20, 2021

Unexpected Indicator: The Church Refrigerator Door

And here’s the remarkable part. The part that may really surprise you. Despite all the chocolate and cheer, not one single person from the strip club ever set foot in the church. Not one grateful mother. Not one intrigued man.

But the church grew anyway. Against everyone’s expectations. Because somehow word got out that they were the kind of church that just anybody could go to.  The kind of place that accepted just anybody. And the number of just anybodies began to trickle in.

Biblically, it makes sense. The whole salvation story is chock-full of just anybodies. Unappealing outcasts. Undesirable outsiders. Untrustworthy scoundrels. Flawed, sin-full folks. So refrigerator mess-makers and parking-policy violators aren’t really a stretch.

This pastor just reinterpreted the indicator. They had a hospitality problem. And a love-the-neighborhood-now problem. And an oops-we-shrunk-the-good-news problem. And God can lead us through those.

This week, find the refrigerator notes for your congregation. They may be literal or metaphorical. But what do they indicate? And how might you post this kind of message instead:

Ministry is messy. And we are a work in progress. But we are so glad you’re here. Yes, you! Do you have ideas for more ways this refrigerator can serve our community? Let’s talk.

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Dec. 13, 2021

Q&A: “But We Don’t Have Any Children”—Five Anyway Ideas

Design worship so a child can participate fully. Then practice it every week. Really. Even if there are no children present:

  • Set out fabrics and objects for decorating the altar or chancel. During the gathering, invite worshipers to bring them forward and arrange them. 
  • Include a children’s worship time (recruit some child-like adults to help). 
  • Prepare a set of lavish art supplies so that a child could interpret the good news with markers, paper, clay and pipe cleaners. Let the adults practice, too, if they’d like. Invite the creations to be displayed with the offering.
  • Rethink lots of everybody-read-this-together worship. Remember that oral call and response works for every age and ability. 
  • Invite movement and comfortable seating for different body sizes. Not everyone can be still for an hour. Welcome pacing, sitting at a table, or lying on a soft rug.
  • For more ideas, interview some favorite teachers in your community.

One small setting pastor used this approach. He told his congregation he wanted to be ready—just in case God sent them a child. So he sat down on the chancel steps each week to offer a children’s sermon. Anyway. And invited them to imagine and love the children who might hear this. Anyway. Within three weeks, a child came. Everyone was ready for her. And she experienced the I-just-can’t-wait-to-see-you love of our God.

It’s a premise for a great movie—if you build it they will come. But it’s also great hospitality. It will change the congregation’s awareness and let them playfully practice. Plus, child-friendly practices actually deepen the worship of all the people.


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