Small churches, or, as I describe the churches I serve, micro-churches end up spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to be church. Many of the things we grew up with--Sunday School, Choir, crowded holiday services, a pastor (or two!) at every service--are no longer options for some churches. The advantage of those changes is that we spend time asking ourselves "what is church?"
And so we list some important traits of church: that it is relational, missional, focused on Jesus Christ, that it is communal, and gathers in a sacred space, it is spirit filled, it is incarnational, it is eucharistic.
Not all congregations will choose all of those words, and many congregations add other descriptors. My ordination is with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and I went to an Episcopal seminary; for me church is definitely Eucharistic. We are a group of people that gather around a ritualistic meal.
There are many challenges for a small, eucharistic church, and one of them is how to share our meal when we have limited resources. Our recent COVID years with online church further challenged our experience of Eucharist.
And so churches are wresting. If you do not have a priest, and are not having Eucharist, is the gathered community no longer church? How often do you need to have Eucharist to be church? Can the Eucharist be in the form of the reserved sacrament from another parish? Can the person who blesses the sacrament be visiting clergy, and if so, what does that do to the definition of church as "relational"? Can the elements be blessed through the miracle and zeroes and ones of Zoom? Are bagels and coffee appropriate substitutes for bread and the fruit of the vine?
There is a no single right answer to these questions, but it is right, and necessary for small parishes to have discuss them, and to decide what is the right answer for their diocese, their geographical location, and for their local community.
What small and micro-congregations need are creative alternatives. In one of my congregations, I bless the elements in one town while they watch, together, in the sanctuary, on zoom, and then we eat, remotely, together. In another, once a month they have breakfast church with a discussion sermon. One of the lay leaders has been authorized by the council to bless the sacrament--usually some sort of coffee cake and orange juice or coffee.
In Episcopal churches sometimes a lay person trained and ordained, so that their home congregations can share the Eucharist. In others an ordained Missioner rotates among several churches, so that once every three, or five, or eight weeks, each congregation gets their turn with the Eucharist. Yoked parishes often have the pastor visiting several churches on Sunday morning. Merged parishes may switch between which building they use. My two parishes gather out-of-doors for a combined Easter in the lovely (but cold) Cathedral of the Pines. Dinner churches bless the elements, but share an actual meal.
All of these are strategies for solving the problem of Eucharist, but the most important element is the discussion. What is church? What does the Eucharist mean to your congregation? How often will you have it, and how will we make that happen. Small and micro-congregations grow stronger when the have wrestled with their theology in order to make a theological decision about what it means to be a Eucharistic people.
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.