Our church staff was always looking for new ways of deepening the spiritual life of the congregation and reaching more people during the Lenten – Holy Week – Easter season. We developed Lenten Sermon Series on a unified theme or progression of topics; we offered Lenten Study series using books that ìlentî themselves to five or six lessons or sessions; we considered Lenten retreats for women or for men to special focused time on the spiritual life. Sometimes we developed special emphases for youth or children that corresponded to what we were inviting adults to consider. We wove special musical offerings into the mix – cantatas, plays, or musicals. We worked with the laity of the church to receive feedback on what special services or studies at what times would serve as most helpful during Holy Week itself, and so some years we offered daily breakfasts and devotions, or lunches with guest lay or clergy leadership, or daily mid-day concerts for reflection and sanctuary. And of course, we provided worship services during Holy Week, such as Maundy Thursday, Tenebrae, Good Friday, Saturday night, Easter sunrise, youth and Easter Sunday services. For each of these, weíd consider various ideas for music, themes, invitations, bulletins, settings, etc. And then weíd try to figure out how best to do visitor follow-up after Easter, since like most congregations, weíd receive a large number of Easter visitors and attendees who seldom otherwise came to our services. We spent a lot of time and effort thinking, praying, and planning for this special season.
We had a couple in our congregation who owned a retail business. Every February they were gone for a couple weeks to marketÖ.to make decisions about the following Christmas! This has made me wonder about how churches plan ahead.
What if pastors and staff of some of our congregations got together for a day in November to share ideas for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter? What if we learned from one another, collaborated and planned ahead? What if we shared what worked, what didnít, what we were looking for and hoping for, and then listened to the experiences and suggestions of our peers and colleagues? What if we took the long view, and made some initial decisions about themes, music, services with months to plan and prepare, rather than waiting to the last couple weeks before Lent? If we could encourage one another and teach one another, we might be surprised at the renewed focus, excellence, and efficacy of our ministries.
For instance, First UMC, Sedalia, Missouri, decided to risk something new this past Easter. They had been maxing out their facilities for the last few Easters, and so instead of adding even more services, they combined all their worship services into one large service, and rented a large public auditorium for their worship. At that one worship service, they had over 2500 people in attendance! The impact on this small community of 21,000 people was huge. These kinds of creative plans canít be made at the last minute. As radical as it sounds, perhaps churches should start thinking about Holy Week in November, and Advent in August.
Yours in Christ,