Planning for Lent

This article is from Issue 19 of “On The Move,” a publication of new learning possibilities for churches, at one time published by The Joint Board of Christian Education of Australia and New Zealand.

Although some ideas and liturgies may appear somewhat “dated” in style, concept, imagery or language, they may nevertheless offer a spring-board for new ideas among people who find themselves leading worship, perhaps in a new context, and with some trepidation.

Reproduced with permission. May be reprinted for use in local congregations only.

by Pat Baker 
Lent has a habit of sneaking up before youre ready for it, especially when Easter falls early. If you’re really going to make something of it, planning needs to begin well ahead – like now, rather than when you get back from your January holidays. Certainly there will be details to be filled in later, but the real forward planning needs to begin several months before the event so that you can order your study materials, make your banners and publicise your special events.Lent is packed with possibilities for individuals and congregations to learn about the significance of Jesus Christ, to examine their life and life style, and to deepen their commitment to Christ and his church. Lets look at some ways of taking hold of these possibilities and bringing them to life in a local church.

The six weeks of Lent lead us to Easter – the Passion and resurrection of our Lord. What worship experiences will prepare our congregation for the great news of Easter?

* Think of the Sunday services as a block or unit, with a common theme, and building towards Holy Week and Easter. Follow a single, on-going theme for the whole of Lent, each week building on what has gone before, so that the congregation is caught up in the sense of drama and movement.

* If at all feasible, involve a group of people in the planning and preparation of services. Working with a group generates ideas and can be particularly helpful when you are trying to develop a series of services around a common theme.

* The nature of the season makes it particularly appropriate for self-examination and a challenge to commitment, both as individuals and as a church community. Take this into account as you plan, and provide opportunities for it to happen.

* Consider ways in which the continuity of the Lenten series of services can become evident to the members of the congregation. (Is there a Lenten equivalent of lighting the Advent candles?) You might try a cumulative device, such as a banner which has something added to it each week. Or you might use the same litany week after week, with minor variations, or a song with a new verse added each week.

* Plan for the special days of Lent. Maundy Thursday has become fairly firmly established on our Lenten calendars in recent years, but what about Ash Wednesday?

Adults who are unwilling to commit themselves to a year-round study program are frequently prepared to join a group for Lent.

* Use the materials recommended by your denomination for group study and/or private reading for Lent.

* As an alternative to the above suggestion, decide on a topic of particular relevance for the people of your parish and develop a program around the topic. If you are lucky you may find that suitable study material is already available. If not, look for other kinds of input: magazine articles, extracts from books, speakers, films, etc.

* A weeknight is not the only possible meeting time for a study group. How about early morning (before, after or including breakfast) any day of the week, or evening mealtime?

* How are you going to get people involved in study groups? An announcement from the pulpit or in the weekly newssheet is not always the most effective way. Many people seem to need a personal invitation before they will join a group. One way you might try is to ask prospective group leaders to recruit their own members. There would need to be a general invitation as well so that no one is missed.

* Publicity material relating to the study program needs to be attractive, concise and accurate. People want to know when, where, who and how long as well as what its all about.

* Whether or not you have a group study program, Lent is a good time to encourage private reading of devotional classics and popular theology. If your denomination suggests a particular book for Lenten reading, have copies available for people to buy. Or maybe the church can buy a number of copies for members to read and pass on.

* A Lenten Book Club is another possibility. People interested in taking part would pay a subscription which would go toward the purchase of books. Each subscriber would receive a book to read and pass on to the next person on the list. Each reader would end up with a book to keep. Alternatively, all books could be returned to become a library for the use of all church members.

Lent can be a time for special efforts in outreach and evangelism. If you are planning a Lenten outreach program, these are some of the questions that need to be raised:

* Who are we trying to reach? Are we going to rank outsiders, or is our aim to rekindle the commitment of lukewarm members and adherents? What difference should this make to our approach?

* Why have we chosen Lent for our evangelism program? How can we relate our outreach to the particular emphases of Lent?

* How is our evangelism program related to other aspects of our Lenten program, e.g., worship and study? (Does our worship and study have special implications for our outreach, and vice-versa?)

Other ideas
* Lent can be a time for encouraging personal and family devotions. A duplicated handout, as simple or as splendid as you like to make it, could include a plan for Bible reading during Lent, thoughts for the day or week, and prayers or prayer suggestions. The material might be designed to fit in with your worship or study program for Lent.

* Lent is a popular time for financial appeals, usually for overseas aid programs. How can such appeals be integrated into your overall program?

* Some churches have the resources to put on a special dramatic or musical production. Most dont. But what one church cant do alone, several churches in a parish or a group of neighbourhood churches may be able to do together. If your own church is not involved in such activities, publicise any worthwhile events and productions in other churches.

* Develop an overall plan for the congregation or for the whole parish, including Sunday school, youth groups, womens and mens groups and any other organisations of the church. Get the leaders thinking together about how they can work together rather than in isolation or competition.

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