Celebrating communion should be one of your greatest small-setting strengths. It calls for hands-on, everyone’s-invited, full-body-contact participation. Your worship superpowers!
Here are the seven communion practices I see shared by vibrant small congregations.
1. They celebrate communion more often and in more settings.
The popular praise-worship format has edged out communion practices. It’s simply an issue of efficiency for big settings. It’s easier to manage crowds when worshipers become passive observers who largely stay in one spot. But small settings don’t have this same dilemma. They can return to messy Early Church practices. Frequent shared sacrament. Regular encounters with this sacred mystery. Not just monthly or periodically. And not just relegated to Sunday mornings. Our sacrament can be celebrated in meetings, retreats, workdays, and visits.
It’s an intriguing paradox of faith. The more we practice something, the more it can mean for us. And the meaning of our sacrament will never be exhausted. So practice communion more.
2. They make workers out of the worshipers.
Worshipers of all ages and abilities can be invited to set the table and serve. During the beginning of worship, lay out the altar/table cloths and communion elements. Recruit new folks. Let worshipers prepare the table–even using treasured dishes from home. Teach them how to serve each other. Remember, hands-on work is deeply forming. Contributing to an event actually grows our love for it. Remember the IKEA Effect (blog Sept. 14, 2021)? Treat worshipers like priceless collaborators. Like God does.
3. They go local and lavish.
The good news speaks to each community specifically, not just everyone generally. So find the best particular gifts of your community. Go local. Maybe that means recruiting a neighbor’s baking skills. Or sharing the same bread as the local food pantry. Then go lavish. Set a table that says for your community, “Welcome, Precious Guests!” not “Ready for a quick TV dinner?”
4. They put the “reading” away.
The communion liturgy is less like a formal monologue. And more like a sharing among intimates. Vibrant small congregations put the books down. And even turn off the screens. They let the liturgy become an interaction. An experience. When we recognize the body of Christ among us, it’s an encounter. Not a demonstration.
How to deepen the sense of encounter? Some pastors memorize the liturgy, then adapt it thematically each week–and for each group of worshipers. (Yes, you can do it! It’s easier than you think.) Some craft Eucharistic prayers alongside their sermons. Some sing the liturgy using one of many easy-to-learn resources. Some use call-and-response resources that invite worshipers to simply repeat a phrase, so everyone can be fully present without books or screens.
Expert resources are not required. Check out this powerful example from the Arkansas Annual Conference. It leads with the simplicity of a familiar hymn and an unadorned human voice. No band required.
5. They highlight and depend on lay leadership.
The whole Church is reawakening to the importance of lay leadership. In the Christian tradition, laity are not pew-fillers. They are essential ministers for the mission of the Church. And small congregations can help reclaim this identity. Within the wisdom of your denomination/tradition, include laity more fully. With planning, preparing, offering, singing, serving. . . .
6. They knock down the walls separating the fellowship hall and the sanctuary.
Okay, not literally. Just know that fellowship halls and sanctuaries belong together. For the Early Church, worship was not a pew-and-pulpit event. It was a table-gathering event. The earliest Christians gathered to talk and eat together. The entire messy meal interaction was worship– and communion!
So bring your sanctuary practices to the fellowship hall sometimes. Or bring your fellowship hall to the sanctuary. Small congregations can encourage the kinds of potlucks and after-worship gatherings that continue the communion. Singing, praying, visiting, and eating really do belong together.
7. They celebrate like a joyful potluck, not like a somber funeral.
Remember, the resurrection wins. Completely. The Early Church didn’t gather to mourn. The people gathered in the great joy of a profound, loving, life-changing mystery. Celebrate the win! What are the markers of gratitude and celebration in your community? Include them.
What lavish practices have worked in your small-setting worship? Share them with me at Teresa@SmallChurch.org.
Thanks for your ministries,