The Lent Challenge


Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris United Methodist Church, challenges his congregation to deepen their spiritual journey during Lent by taking up the disciplines of worship, study, and scripture reading rather than giving up chocolates or dessert.

Lent is a time for going more deeply into Christian discipleship. Church members are often aware that Lent is a season for increased devotion to Christ that lends itself to study, prayer, and introspection. So it is an ideal time to call the congregation to a deepening of their discipleship over the six weeks of Lent and to find ways to make these weeks welcoming to those who might be new to the church.

This can begin with something as simple as reminding people of the importance of worship at this most holy time of year. Something is just not right if Christian people are not in church during Lent, Holy Week, and on Easter. Churches can be frank and gracious at the same time by talking about what people have experienced in Holy Week worship over the centuries and how much such worship can mean to their spiritual development.

Having everyone on the same journey makes a big difference in the experience of Lent. Momentum builds as people work to complete the study together, both encouraging one another and holding one another accountable.

Taking Something Up During Lent

I’ve issued a “Lent Challenge” to encourage my congregation to participate in worship and study during Lent. Many are in the habit of “giving something up for Lent,” often an item like chocolate or dessert. While calories were fewer for the faithful, such discipline did little to transform lives. Besides, “giving up” these things often left people dour and cranky, gateways into sins other than gluttony. Instead of “giving up” sweets, church members were called to “take up” the daily reading of scripture, involvement in a weekly small group, and participation in weekly worship. By infusing their lives with the reading of the Bible, Christian conversation, and six consecutive weeks of worship, they could truly honor Christ and seek a deeper faith experience during Lent.

Small Groups

We emphasize small group participation during Lent by engaging in a congregation-wide study linked to a sermon series. People not already part of small groups are encouraged to sign up, and many join who have never participated in the past. Many are more open to participating in a class, reading a book tied to a sermon series, or committing to attendance and other goals because it is Lent. The defined time period and challenge motivate them to give this a try.

This experience brings a greater sense of unity as members are reading the same material, participating in similar small group conversations, and hearing a sermon each week that focuses on the topic of the week. While the sermon series is important, it is the encouragement to participate in a daily workbook and the weekly small groups that leads to deepening discipleship and increased worship attendance.

Having everyone on the same journey makes a big difference in the experience of Lent. Momentum builds over the weeks of the sermon series as people work to complete the study together, both encouraging one another and holding one another accountable as the weeks pass.

You do not have to write your own curriculum to make this experience possible. Many books and small group materials are available for study and devotional reading during the six weeks of Lent.

Editor’s Note: Tom Berlin’s recently published six-week study Restored: Finding Redemption in our Mess (Abingdon Press, 2016) is a possible resource for Lenten study.

This material is adapted from Overflow: Increase Worship Attendance and Overflow book coverBear More Fruit (Abingdon, 2013) by Lovett H. Weems, Jr., and Tom Berlin and used by permission. The book is available through Cokesbury and Amazon.

Related Resources

About Author

Tom Berlin

Tom Berlin is bishop of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. Previously, for over 25 years, he was senior pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia. He was written several books. Most recently, he coathored The Third Day: Living the Resurrection (Abingdon Press, 2023), available on Cokesbury and Amazon.

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