A Theology of Small-Group Worship

Spiritual formation for individuals, small groups, and the church.

Note: This article has been excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training tool called Meaningful Worship in Small Groups.

For many churches, the majority of worship happens on Sunday morning. This is a significant way the body of Christ—as a community—focuses on God and his grace. However, worship that takes place during the week is vital to the life of the church, as well.

Small groups have the unique opportunity to worship in an intimate setting, using a range of formats, prayers, and musical styles to express their praise. This worship contributes to the spiritual formation not only individuals, but also the group as a whole. And by strengthening small groups, worship actually builds the church in its understanding of God's character and its evangelistic effectiveness.

Why Is Worship Vital to a Small Group?

When a small group worships together, they—as individuals and as a body—focus their attention first on God and his divine character made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. Everything else the group does stems from this place of Christ-centeredness. In other words, worship is the fundamental center of a wheel that branches out into spokes. These spokes include evident Christian fruit, like service, compassion, and community.

This upward focus on Jesus also brings a sense of transparency to the group. Coming face-to-face with the holiness of Christ means we see ourselves as we truly are: broken, sinful, and in need of grace. This need is an individual burden and a corporate one. We share this brokenness not just with humanity, but also with all of creation (Romans 8:21–22). In the small-group context, therefore, our worship allows us to share our needs and become vulnerable with God and vulnerable with one another.

Vulnerability is essential for building community in a small group. Our pretenses are stripped down and we come as we are—with our flaws, the messy week we've had, and the angry words we said to our spouse earlier that day. Although these evidences of our brokenness can be easily concealed before our group, worship provides the space to open ourselves to God and to others. Group leaders should encourage the members in their group to see worship as an opportunity for personal spiritual growth and the development of group relationships and communion.

Be warned: when we are honest before God and one another, it is uncomfortable and humbling. We see not only our own brokenness, but also the tangible "humanness" of those in our group. Worshipping together allows the divine and the physical to intersect in powerful, and sometimes awkward, ways. If this is true of the larger church body, it is even more pronounced in a small group consisting of a few people.

I was once in a small group in which an older woman sang boisterously—and off-key. Instead of asking her to tone down, however, the group leader allowed this woman's enthusiasm to be a sign of true worship for our entire group. It was uncomfortable at times, but eventually my group members and I cherished this woman's praises and were able to enter deeper worship because of her adoration. These opportunities for living out the gospel in real Christian community give us a richer understanding of Christ's love and willingness to become flesh and live with us in our messy, broken, and awkward world (Philippians 2:1–11).

Why Is Small-Group Worship Important to the Church?

The church is a dynamic, living body of people founded on Christ. Worship does not happen just once a week in the Sunday morning service. In a healthy church, worship should be active and vibrant in the lives of its members throughout the week. Small groups provide the space and time for corporate worship outside the larger body, and through this more intimate worship and the building of community, the church as a whole is strengthened.

Small-group worship does two important things for the church body. First, it deepens the worship of the church. If small pockets of members are worshiping Christ with one another throughout the week, in the midst of daily life, the beauty and sacredness of worship on Sunday morning will be magnified and emboldened with vigor and new life.

Second, as the church worships with passion, others are drawn in and swept up in the worship of our Lord. Worship should be enjoyable for the church, but it should also be shared with those who do not yet know the grace of Jesus. In these two ways, small-group worship is not only significant, but actually vital for the worship and growth of the body of Christ.

How Can We Do This?

Jesus promises he is not only with us when we are gathered as his church, but when we come before him as pockets of believers (Matthew 18:19–20). In a small group, there is no need for anyone to say or do something that evokes the Lord's presence, for he has already promised he is there! The leader's job is to simply invite group members to open their hearts to Jesus and his leading.

This invitation can take many different forms:

  • Prayer is the clear biblical foundation of worship, but there are a variety of ways small groups can implement this discipline into their worship. The use of a prayer book (such as the Book of Common Prayer) is a good starting place for small groups because the prayers are all based in Scripture and structure is already given, so the preparation is minimal.
  • Lectio Divina is another kind of structured prayer. This ancient practice involves meditation—led by one person—around a short Scripture verse. The group is invited by the leader to use listening prayer to plumb the depths of this passage. Lectio Divina is a powerful tool used to connect with the Lord and his Word in fresh ways.
  • Small groups can also pray through music. The church has always used singing to express what mere words cannot. Some groups avoid this because they don't have anyone who can lead the music, but this logistic shouldn't hinder the group from singing together. Members can agree upon recorded worship songs or some hymns that are meaningful and easy to sing.

These are only a few examples of implementing worship into a small group. There are dozens of ways to introduce worship to a small group or to deepen a group's understanding of worship. We, as individuals and believing communities, are called to worship by God who has created and redeemed us. As we are spiritually formed through this practice, we are formed in our personal faith, in our small circles of fellowship, and as a part of the local and universal church.


  1. Have I ever been uncomfortable during a worship experience? Have I ever been humbled? What was the cause?
  2. How does that knowledge that Christ is present in our small group affect my worship?
  3. How can our small group incorporate the three types of prayer mentioned above?

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