There is no way around it. Taking a traditional large church service and doing precisely the same thing in a small group just feels strange. A twenty-minute sermon in a living room or backyard? Congregational singing? Much of what we have been doing for worship for the last fifty years can be—and has been—effective in some settings. But in a new setting, we need to adapt worship.
One shift in thinking that can help is that worship hasn’t always been done the way it has been done during the last fifty years. If you look at all of church history, we have people meeting illegally in catacombs, in small groups, without ordained clergy, without official meeting space. We can think creatively and it is still worship within the tradition of the larger church.
Adapt worship for a small setting
When I was leading a house church in in someone’s living room, one thing I liked to do was light a candle in the center of the group at the beginning of our gathering. It reminded people that Jesus, the light of the world, was at our center. It brought people closer together around the candlelight and created a sense of reverence and set-apartness. Now that I am leading a small group but in an outdoor environment, I used a battery powered candle. It worked reasonably well, but the next week, the host brought out a candle with glass around it so the wind would not blow out the flame. We had to adapt a previous form of worship for a new environment.
Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matthew 9:17)
What might your new wineskins need to look like? How can you help people worship and experience God in this new environment we are living in?
It is difficult to adapt worship
A friend told me a story that can serve as a helpful illustration. Her daughter’s eyes were quick to redden and burn from chlorine when she was little so my friend thought it was a great idea to give her goggles to wear during swim lessons. Her seasoned swim instructor immediately removed them. The reasoning was that her daughter needed to know she could swim without them. Goggles, fins, and water wings are considered unsafe when learning because too many children “forget” how to swim when their circumstances change.
To what degree are we like this girl while the doors of the church are closed? Or even when we are permitted to gather, but not sing? Do we still know how to worship? Or are we flailing in the deep end without our water wings? Singing is a part of worship, but not all of it.
More ways to worship
Share and contribute gratitude
Celebration is powerful. Take time to speak aloud what you are grateful for and celebrate God’s provision. “Praise God for the ability to work from home and provide for my family.” “Thank you, Jesus, that Susie is asymptomatic.”
This silly-sounding idea is rooted beautifully. I went to a church that had a small deaf population, they would clap in praise by lifting their hands, extending their fingers, and shaking their hands back and forth at the wrist. At times the congregation would join in, the room worshipping in silence with tears falling down many a face in gratitude for the ability of a true shared expression. Why not praise God in sign language?
Sharing testimony of sacrificial worship
Maybe you have been getting up an hour early to pray for a sick friend only to have God meet you powerfully during your time of prayer. Maybe you have been shopping for elderly neighbors and months in they are asking why, opening the door to share the gospel. Boast in the faithfulness of the Lord.
Time(s) of silence
Awkward silence is dreaded in small groups but what if we made the silence intentional? Maybe a time of guided corporate prayer in response to scripture or the sermon.
Encourage a fostering of personal worship expression
Sing in the car or in the shower. Utter praise and practice listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit throughout the day. The Church has long said, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” Put some intentional work into that relationship.
Ultimately, we need to broaden our definition of worship. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Worship isn’t defined as singing here. It is defined as full-life sacrifice.
Guide for Discipling offers a holistic approach to growing as a disciple of Jesus. New and seasoned Christians alike will find encouragement as they examine a variety of aspects of Christian living. The end result will be transformation– not of ourselves only– but of others and the whole of the community around us.
Change Management: We have several resources to help you navigate effective change. To learn where you need to focus, I suggest that you start with the Change Management Effectiveness Profile and then work through the Change Management Skills Builder. If you are coaching others in this season, you will find the Change Management Coaching Guide with Storyboard to be a powerful tool.
This blog entry is part of a series called, “Journey toward a new beginning.” Each entry explores a different topic in light of the Covid-related question: “What if things stay the way they are for the next three to four years? What would you do?” You can see the original blog entry here.