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What Small Churches Can Do

The gathering of the saints on the Lord’s Day is the most critical gathering of the local church. I know not everyone sees it this way. Call me “old-school.” Call me traditional. Call me institutional.

But, I am convinced that gathering together to hear the Scripture read and preached, to observe the Lord’s Supper, to sing Christ’s praises, and pray together as one family is the central event in the life of the church and that everything else she does is rooted in and grows out of this assembly.

Some of our smaller churches who highly value corporate worship sometimes feel as if they cannot have a great worship gathering because they don’t have “____________.”  That blank can be just about anything: a stellar preacher, a full choir, a proficiant band, a charismatic worship leader, lights, stage dressing, a great facility. You get the idea. It’s easy for us to think that great worship hinges on something extra-biblical. 

Of course, sometimes we feel our corporate worship is lacking because it is lacking. It may lack focus, depth, clarity, purpose, or passion. When these things are absent corporate worship is dull; where they are in full effect worship is powerful. And these things have nothing to do the “blank” most churches believe they need.

I have worshipped with tiny congregations where worship made me exult in the joy of our risen Savior, and I have worshipped with large congregations that left me wishing I stayed in bed that morning. And, of course it often works the other way as well.

My wife and I once attended a Reformed Baptist Church that fits my current definition of a “small” church. There was no worship leader. No choir. No instruments. No overhead projection. No cool lights. The building was plain-Jane. Yet their gathering was powerful. Why?

On the one hand they had all the essential elements needed for corporate worship. Yes, some things are required: the word of God read and preached, the prayers and songs of God’s people lifted up in the name of Jesus Christ, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But having these elements in place is not enough.

With these things there must be focus, depth, clarity, purpose, or passion.

1. Focus.

The focus of the gathered church is the Lord Jesus Christ and his work of salvation for all who believe accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. Corporate worship should be distinctively, uniquely Christian, making it incapable of being confused with another cause, movement, or religion.

A proper focus on Jesus means that the whole gathering should work to lead everyone present to “see” Jesus. This means every aspect of the gathering, every part of the liturgy, should be designed to help us draw near to Christ by faith. Whatever is not helping us move toward him needs to be cut.

2. Depth.

Worship that is powerful gains its strength from the heralding of the glories of our triune God. This means that our worship must be intentionally and deeply theological. If we are God’s people, saved and gathered together to “proclaim his excellencies” (1 Pet. 2:9), then we must not only know them, but make them known. Worship that doesn’t revel in the character and work of our sovereign and saving God will lift up something, or someone else, instead.