We’re hearing from our fellow participants in the Calvin Institute of Worship Small Group Worship Tool Kit project. Here are some practices that are working in Small Groups. . .
Play music for listening or singing. The music enhances the season or lesson topic. Download music from YouTube or personal collections and play back on a smartphone at the meeting. Sometimes the phone benefits from being plugged into an auxiliary amplifier — inexpensive and available widely.
If your group is studying a topical series, repeat a prayer at each series meeting that addresses the topic. Print it on beautiful cardstock for everyone to keep.
Light candles to start a group, or initiate prayer time.
Create, bless and give prayer shawls to members facing acute challenges or grieving.
Pray with small crosses that may be taken home.
Place a bowl of water on a center table during seasons of penance, inviting inner cleansing
Ring a bell to signal gathering, to end casual conversation and be “in group.”
Sing or recite a benediction or scripture — that everyone knows– at the end of group time.
Why worship in small groups?
We discussed several reasons , but what especially got our attention were these:
- Many of our Small Group members may be missing Sunday Worship. It is estimated that only 17.7% of Americans are in Sunday worship each week. This may be a member’s only chance to experience that deeper connection with God that comes from beautiful ritual, heartfelt song and authentic prayer.
- If we can learn to worship God in our Small Groups, we can transfer that learning to our homes, making moments of worship with our family and friends.
But, will worship scare off the unchurched, the undecided, the religiously ambivalent – the very people we want to welcome into Small Groups?
The consensus was that if we are sensitive, introducing worship elements that are organic to the topic, the occasion, and the group’s aesthetic, worship is welcomed. People are hungry for transcendence. They seek the sacred in daily life. Don’t fail them!
Small groups are started and sponsored, typically, by churches.
But, these church groups can become hybrid gatherings of folks from other churches, unchurched neighbors, and those in a season of “dechurching.”
This is to be celebrated!
Small groups that are alive with the Holy Spirit will transcend institutional boundaries. Who wouldn’t be drawn to such a welcoming place, where the best practices of Christianity are experienced –acceptance, tough questions of faith, reverence for The Word, prayer, care, testimony, faithful presence?
Freed from the burdens of institutional upkeep, the small group can be, “all people, no steeple.”
The challenge for the sponsoring church is to continue to provide support. Can pastors and elders give these hybrid groups the same study resources, leadership training, affirmation and supervision as groups that are “church” groups?
What would the Great Commission require?
How can recognizing spiritual gifts lift your group’s experience?
It’s easy to presume that a small group needs only one spiritual gift — leadership. In fact, there are a variety of spiritual gifts that contribute to a great meeting and group. These include:
- Administration: emails updates and keeps members’ data, including birth dates
- Hospitality: provides a restful, distraction-free setting and organizes refreshments
- Shepherd: cares for the group beyond the meeting, with caring phone calls, cards, and follow-up emails as led by the Spirit.
- Discernment: keeps sensitive to dynamics in the group as the meeting unfolds. Whose question didn’t get answered? Who made a comment that merits more consideration? Was there conflict that needs resolution?
- Teaching: has read the study material carefully, and even done some extra research. Comes prepared with strong questions that go beyond, “yes” or “no” responses, and encourages personal application and sharing.
- Friendship: invites newcomers to the group. The group should clarify (even write down) their process of welcoming newcomers to visit and join, so there are no misunderstandings about this.
- Prayer: encourages others also to pray in group, through a simple, faithful style of prayer. Caveat: prayer that is a virtuoso performance discourages others to pray aloud.
- And finally, Leading: has accountability for the group’s overall well-being and progress. The leader should ask him/herself and the group, “How is the group?” and “Where is God leading us next?” The leader should have a regular time of meeting with an accountability partner such as a pastor or point person who provides support, occasional observation of the group in action, and private feedback to the leader. The Leader should be committed to identifying and developing the gifts of others in the group (see above), including the gift of leadership.
These gifts emerge as group life grows, and should be recognized by the Leader with affirmation and authorization for the person to use his or her gift for the good of the group.