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!
There are times in small group life when conversation and human words just don’t cut it.
A parent has died; a child has gone off the rails; desperately needed employment is finally won; an important milestone is celebrated. In such times we naturally reach for more: expressive actions, heart-felt songs, visual art that say more than we can, that lift our more to God. That is worship!
Because small groups touch these profound topics routinely, we should be ready for that “more” – ready to express our sorrows and celebrations with a moment of worship.
Small group worship is not performance by professionals. It is authentic, extemporaneous expression of emotion and faith of the group. It is “worship extempore.”
How can you prepare for worship extempore?
- First, take an inventory of predictable events that may arise in your members’ lives, including family deaths, estrangements, financial and work distress, illness, children’s challenges, as well as celebrations.
- Then, think about “tools” that can bring God’s presence into such moments. What religious rituals, objects, music speak in such times? Anointing oil for healing? Lit candles for illumination? A prayer shawl for mourning? Holy communion for reconciliation? A small cross for power in suffering? A familiar song of hope? Collect these items and place them in a basket, for ease of use at your meetings. What about things that can be taken home, or delivered to a member? Rocks painted with a key word of encouragement? One group delivers “grace baskets” filled with a relevant inspirational book and other items and food, to show love for a member in challenging times.
- Prepare your group to use these items by introducing your “worship tool kit” at a time your group is discussing organizational questions. Pray together that you use the tool kit with grace and God’s guidance.
Worship isn’t always extempore. Readings and scripture lessons are planned, and there is a predictable flow of time together. These can also be deepened with worshipful elements: a call to order with bells, ambient music at prayer times, centering silence before sharing time, displayed images that speak to a scripture the group is studying, a shared benediction when departing.
The seasons of the church, such as Advent and Lent, also lend themselves to planned worship moments: lighting Advent candles or singing Advent hymns, a simple foot-washing ritual in Lent or marking the foreheads of members with ashes of repentance.
Once you begin to experiment and become confident in using your tool kit, you’ll discover favorites. These may become your group’s “signature symbols,” deeply expressive objects, rituals or songs that exemplify your group’s identity and express its faith in God. And as your members use the worship tool kit, they will build up a strong memory of life together – the night we sang that song, the Advent we used that wreath, the time we used that pottery for holy communion. The aesthetic dimension of worship has the power to cement memory and create group identity.
Small groups are built on authentic, spiritual conversation, using words and stories from our faith tradition to illumine the deepest dimensions of our life stories. But even such rich conversation has limits. We need more – more to express ourselves and more to help us remember. Small group worship is that more.
As we begin to talk about small group worship, there is hesitancy among group leaders, as though worship is a performance by professionals, that lay leaders can’t pull this off — “do not try this at home.”
But this article makes the important point that worship is an attitude of grateful awareness of what God is doing in our lives. Any small group leader has experienced that, sees that at work in a group meeting, and expresses that extemporaneously. That’s leading worship!
7 Keys To Being A Great Worship Leader.