4 Ways to Help Your Congregation Engage In Lent
Today is known within the Church calendar as Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent and the start of the 40-day journey toward the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter. Many view this season as a time of preparation, reflection, and self-examination very similar to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his ministry. Depending on your background, the ways you participate in Lent may look very different, but below you will find some ideas that could help you and your congregation refresh your view of this season that has been observed by the Church for millennia.
Church leaders, here are 4 ways to help your congregation engage in Lent.
1. Explain the history.
One of the first ways you can help your congregation have a deeper appreciation for and deeper engagement with the Lenten season is to help them understand the history. Lent has been recognized as a part of the Church calendar from the earliest years of the faith, and it was often understood to be a time of preparation for baptism. Because baptism is often understood as the death and resurrection of the believer, it makes sense that the celebration of baptism would coincide with Easter. As your congregation looks towards Easter, help them see that your church is a part of a bigger story that has been told and experienced for nearly 2000 years in the Christian faith.
2. Offer fasting suggestions.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that churchgoers do not participate in Lent isn’t because they dislike the season, but rather because they haven’t yet found a meaningful way to participate. Offering suggestions regarding how they might fast or other areas in which they can abstain in preparation for Easter can go a long way in helping your congregation find meaning in this season. Here is a small list of ideas and common practices:
- Fast one or two specific days a week to reflect on what Jesus gave for us.
- Give up caffeine as a way to remember our sole dependence on God.
- Get up an hour early every day to spend time in prayer.
- Dedicate one evening a week to serving the least of these.
- Give up eating out/coffee runs and instead donate the money to a good cause.
- Give up TV or Social Media and use the time to invest in relationships.
- Keep a journal and reflect on the ways in which the Cross and Resurrection impacts your story.
- Read through the four Gospels and focus on the themes of repentance and forgiveness.
- Find one possession a day that you don’t actually need and donate them all at the end of the season.
3. Create a calendar.
Another way that church leaders can help their congregation engage in the Lenten season is to make a weekly calendar which includes various practices to participate in Lent on specific days. Another reason why people will often not participate in Lent is because they feel isolated in their practices. For example, rather than simply asking people to fast once a week, encourage everyone in the church to fast on Thursdays. This way people are able to offer encouragement and support to one another in a practice that may not be very familiar to them. Rather than asking everyone to serve your homeless neighbors once a week, set up a weekly dinner where people can serve and love those neighbors together. By providing the structure and support of a plan, you will make it a lot easier for people to get involved and have a meaningful experience.
4. Include experiential elements in church gatherings.
Finally, if you hope to get your church body engaged in Lent on a personal level, encourage them by adding experiences to the corporate church gatherings. For many, the Lenten season is a time of reflection and stripping away excess. To incorporate these ideas into your church gatherings, you might include a time of silent reflection during your church services each week. Some churches will incorporate various elements in the church space such as crosses, prayer altars, or images to symbolize this stripping away and the sacrifice of Christ. Or maybe for your church, it may be as simple as including a Lenten prayer each week that reminds everyone of the Jesus’ journey to the cross and to the new life of Easter
Does your church observe Lent? What are some of your common practices? What ideas would you add to our list?
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