A service without…

At the risk of austerity-mongering,  it’s worth asking what a small, or new, or fragile church can do without in its worship to make worship sustainable, and to free up money and energy for other parts of church life.

Some things come to mind; here I’m thinking of middle-of-the-road mainline Protestantism. You could have worship

  • without a meeting-place you own
  • even without a fixed meeting-place
  • without a full-time or resident minister
  • without a sermon, or at least a long, originally-composed sermon every week
  • without an organ, and probably without a piano
  • without a choir
  • without hymns

The list goes on, but you may already have experienced one or more of these “deprivations” in your own church. You might not even consider it a deprivation.

I’ll be looking at some of these options on and off for the next few weeks under the banner of “doing what you can, but doing it well.”

Burnout is a real risk under diminishing resources and opportunities. Burning out the leadership, leaving them hopeless, is not an option. Or else you’ll be

  • without a church


2 Replies to “A service without…”

  1. Going without a choir may not be a deprivation – depending on the choir it may be a blessing!

    Of your list the most radical difference would be abandoning hymns I think. For some services I’ve been in the hymns are literally the only part the congregation is active in…

  2. Scott,

    The UU congregation that we attended in Rapid City SD from 1992 to 1995 was doing many of the things on the list in your blog post.

    The UUA web site shows them at 28 members (which is pretty close to the membership numbers when we moved from Rapid City in 1995).

    We didn’t own our meeting space (we rented from the community senior citizen center), but we did have a fixed meeting location.

    We were a lay-led fellowship but one of our members had some additional training provided by the UUA district.

    We did have sermons at most worship services but many of these came from other members or outside speakers. Occasionally, we would have something intergenerational — dramatic presentation or storytelling instead of a sermon.

    We didn’t have a piano or organ that lived in the rented meeting space. But our lay leader also played piano and she would bring a portable electronic keyboard (it traveled in the back seat of her car and it was light enough to easily carry in each week). This could do both piano and organ — the technology for this has gotten both better and more affordable since 1992.

    We also had other musicians — a flute player, a baritone horn player, and a viola player. And I played guitar during some services as accompaniment.

    We had congregational singing and a very small quarter to quintet-sized “choir.”

    We didn’t use the grey UU hymnal but we did have a locally produced songbook that used camp meeting songs with re-written lyrics (reflecting the prevailing humanism in the Prairie Star District at the time).

    A small lay-led fellowship may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is a sustainable model for smaller cities (the 2014 population estimate for Rapid City is around 72,000).

    Shortly after we arrived in Shreveport, I was asked to serve on the pledge canvass committee. Early on during my time on this committee, I was asked what we did for a pledge canvass drive in Rapid City.

    I replied we didn’t have one — without major building expenses or payroll, we were able to meet our needs by passing the collection basket each Sunday.

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