Collaborative Worship: How a night of worship is causing me to dream big dreams for small churches

Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash.
The question, "Can't you guys just get along?" is one of the most common questions that every parent will ask their children at some point. I know sure my sister and I heard it a lot growing up, and the chance is if you have a sibling, you would have heard it as well. However, this is also a question that I have heard non-church-going individuals ask when they are trying to understand why there are so many different churches in one area. We have tons of 'canned' answers, but to be honest, none of them are that good. The truth is there are as many pride, personality, and belief differences in church communities as there are in any sibling rivalry. Truthfully, we don't like it either, but at times it seems that the human condition is weak and unreasonable.

These days the question for me isn't about why there are so many churches. In fact, I think more churches with different personalities are very much needed. Rather, the question that I think we should be asking ourselves is more along the lines of why there is not more collaboration taking place between church communities for the Kingdom of God. The old slogan, "We're better together," has been used by many political and advertising campaigns. Despite its simplicity and familiarity, it holds a lot of truth for church communities that we have not yet discovered.

This idea of seeing more churches collaborate together has been an increasing desire and call for me. I've seen it happen well on a few projects, and it's memorable. For the past few years, I have been facilitating our neighborhood ministerium, and I found myself dreaming about the missional impact that could be possible through intentional neighborhood church partnerships. I remember when I launched a website for our ministerium, and to my surprise, a neighbor remarked on a Facebook group about how they didn't even know our neighborhood churches got along. Ouch.

Small Church Essentials
by Karl Vaters
The passion that I have for church collaboration was renewed as I encountered the writings of author and pastor Karl Vaters, and his project, New Small Church. Author Karl Vater's books The Grasshopper Myth and Small Church Essentials have laid some new foundations for the purpose and potential of small churches. Don't get me wrong, I think large churches have a purpose and potential, but I also think that small churches also serve a huge and undeniable Kingdom purpose, and honestly they may have some unique potential that their larger counterparts do not have. One of those unique potentials that the small church has is the ability to collaborate with other church communities much more easily. Additionally, they have the capacity to work together in the neighborhood contexts in which they exist and to love those in their neighborhood.

As a small church pastor, I am constantly finding interest in helping and encouraging other small churches. At the same time, I find that I enjoy daydreaming about the ways small churches can work together. I believe that the biggest obstacle to churches collaborating together is still what I mentioned above, there is as much pride, personality, and belief differences in church communities as there are in any sibling rivalry. As I have tried to dream about collaboration with other churches, I am usually met with some interesting responses:
  • Many times there is general interest, but no real capacity to imagine it or put it into play.

  • Some pastors misunderstand what collaboration is, and just share expectations for every neighborhood church to be part (or collaborate) on their event, celebration, or project.

  • Sometimes theological differences seem too great for some.

  • Often there is still pride in place, and pastors will just say "We don't have an interest in collaborating." They are still holding out that "going it alone," will someday make themselves something great - individually.

  • Though I have never heard it expressed, sometimes my sense has been that some leaders suffer from secret jealousy or the unfair judgment of other churches around them.
Currently, I am serving as the Pastor in a church that has a long healthy and helpful tradition of collaborating on a Thanksgiving Eve Worship Gathering with a neighboring church community. In fact, neither pastor of these two collaborating church communities can take credit for this tradition, as it outlives us both by decades. Hempfield Church of the Brethren and East Petersburg Mennonite Church have long shared an annual rhythm of taking turns hosting this joint worship gathering and celebration together. This past year, Real Life Church of God became the third church community of this collaboration. This addition is probably by far the most transformative to our collaboration because previously our collaboration was nothing but a partnership that was between two churches who were similar theologically and historically. 

A few months ago, Rip Wahlberg (Pastor at Sanctuary - a Vineyard Church) approached Chris Freet (Pastor at Millersville Brethren in Christ) and myself (Pastor at East Petersburg Mennonite Church) about collaborating on a worship night. Rip's desire was just to see some churches from different contexts work together to host at least one night of worship just for the glory of God. There was no other agenda for the night, no other secret plan behind this event, and no hidden marketing ploy to grow our churches. At the end of the day, Rip just longed to see our worship leaders work together to create a night focused on praising God for who God is. 

All of us were excited to begin to collaborate on this night of three completely different churches, from completely different neighborhoods, and three completely different theological leanings. We are bringing together three different worship leaders, with three different influences, and three different ages. The only one who benefits from this collaborative night is God, and to me that it a true collaboration between small church communities. That is what I long to see more of, partner more in, and even find ways to facilitate more of.

Interested to see what it will look like? I invite you to join us on Friday, May 3, for a night of collaborative worship at 7:00 p.m. We will be worshipping at the "M2" building, which is located at 3116 Blue Rock Rd in Lancaster Pennsylvania. I think all of us are hoping this is the beginning of more collaborative events and nights of worship together.

I am curious about how you view church collaboration?
  • How have you seen churches collaborate well?

  • How have you seen churches not collaborate well?

  • How would you like to see churches collaborate in new ways?
I look forward to seeing you on May 3, as we worship together. I encourage you to RSVP on our Facebook Event Invite.

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