Surprising Small Church Successes from COVID

Dear Ones:

This month I’ve been following up with some small congregations. About COVID. About disruptions, experimentations, flailings, and surprise learnings. Even marvelous successes.

I know these stories aren’t often told. So lean in. And send me yours. 

In response to COVID, many large settings enhanced what was already working for them. Producing and broadcasting worship. Relying on a team of experts to decide and adapt. 

It sets up an easy lament for small congregations. We don’t have great technology. We don’t have a production team. Or experts. Or easy ways for worshipers to tune in.

An easy lament. But completely wrong. 

One of your strengths is innovating. Doing things differently. 

I’ve noticed groups of small congregations actually reporting that they are growing. Reaching more people. Throughout their community. And in far flung places.

Here are five things these groups have in common:

1. They don’t try to replicate worship as usual.

One pastor explained simply that the attention span is shorter. More people joined in after moving to a 30-minute format. Times are different. So our worship should respond to the differences. Don’t white knuckle whatever you’ve done in the past.

2. Embrace rough (often really rough) production. 

Make do. Use your phone. Perfection is not required!

Think about a video call between family members. Not a broadway production. Many folks are skeptical of high production value. There’s actually something that seems more genuine in the rough stuff. 

3. Rethink sermons.

Go shorter and on location. I recently saw a homily on shepherding from a pastor standing in a sheep pen. The sheep didn’t follow cues. It didn’t matter. I was drawn in. Like the rest of the worshipers. Another congregation teamed up with 3 other small churches in their small town. The pastors talked about a scripture together! Even from their different denominations! They didn’t even agree on everything! Scandalous! But surely it’s also the kingdom of God among us, right? And this inclusive adaptation would not have happened at a large congregation.

4. Get hands on.

Send out boxes with signs and symbols and ordinary objects from your church to homes. Deliver them anywhere people can’t join in person. Even if you’re worried that the stuff might not come back. Ministry requires risk, right? Then ask worshipers to take pictures of a home altar with the objects. Ask them to pray for the ministry ahead that will include these objects again.

5. Go local.

Tell the story of your community. One congregation sent out all their lavish Christmas pageant costumes to neighborhood kids. Members. Nonmembers. Neighbors. They asked them to dress up and send a picture. Shepherds. Angels. Marys. Josephs. Animals. In costume and character.  Reading the Christmas scripture, the pictures were scrolled to tell the story. Our kids. Our story. For everyone. Emmanuel. Yes, this is the story of God with even us. Right here.

Hope this invites you to dance with the Spirit. Please share your dance moves. I cherish the conversations.

Thanks for your ministry,


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