Tom Berlin shares Floris United Methodist Church’s plan for reaching out during Lent to those feeling distant from the church. Each household will receive a Lenten gift bag with everything needed to participate in a Lenten study, join a small group, and attend Holy Week and Easter services.
A sign in my office, visible behind me during Zoom meetings with fellow Floris UMC staff members, reads “It’s About Engagement.” We will soon approach the one-year mark of hybrid ministry. The winter months and rising COVID-19 infection rates have made life far more virtual and far less in-person for many churches. Pastors and church leaders have worked hard to share worship services and other video content to involve their members. But even with our best efforts, our members may be feeling the distance. A friend in another state recently said that her church was interested in her liking, sharing, and promoting the church’s social media posts, but the church had only phoned her family once in the past ten months to see how they were doing. She told my wife, “I get the feeling that they want us to be interested in them, but I can’t tell if they are interested in us!”
Lent is the perfect season to let people know that you care about their spiritual journey. At Floris UMC, we are assembling Lenten gift bags for our members. Each household will receive one. Our goal is to give them everything they need to meet our call to attend and participate in the six Sunday worship services of Lent, join a small group, and attend Holy Week and Easter services when everything in our church will be virtual. The Lenten gift bag will contain:
- A small cross tattoo to place on the forehead on Ash Wednesday
- A book for Lent, Courage: Jesus and the Call to Brave Faith. The season of Lent is traditionally a time to take on some spiritual practice. Every year at Floris, we initiate a churchwide study and encourage all of our church members to join a small group. If you have not called your members to a common study during Lent, I highly recommend it. This year our Lenten study is built around Courage: Jesus and the Call to a Brave Faith. I wrote the book and the six-session leader’s guide this summer believing that the theme of courage is highly relevant to this time. I also created small group videos that are on Amplify.
- Prefilled communion elements for Communion Sunday services during Lent and on Holy Thursday
- A palm cross for Palm Sunday
- A votive candle for Good Friday
- Flower seeds to plant on Easter Sunday
Our children’s ministry is also providing a children’s Lent and Easter camp with materials for weekly crafts and lessons that tie into the scriptures and themes from Courage. The goal is to make it easy for people to accept your invitation to join the Lenten journey.
Our goal is to get the gift bags and children’s boxes to everyone in whatever way they desire. Those who prefer to pick up their gift bags from the church parking lot can stop by on designated days. Pastors, staff, and lay leaders will be safely handing them out. It will be a time to see and connect with individuals and families from a safe social distance. Volunteers will drop off gifts bags at the front door of members not able to stop by the church.
A friend of mine was surprised the church was willing to pay for all of this. There is a cost for bringing these materials together, but we consider it an investment in our congregation. Our desire is to serve those who come to Floris UMC and help them experience a rich season to thoughtfully consider how to follow Christ in a brave faith. We want to help diminish their anxiety and gain skills that will help their daily lives. We want them to experience community during what many are finding to be a very lonely time.
If your church is unable to pay for the contents of a gift bag such as this, you might consider what each component costs and ask committed members to give a gift above their monthly offering to pay for that portion. Years ago, a friend of mine was given a used bus for his student ministry. I was amazed. I said, “No one ever gives my church a bus!” He turned to me and said, “Did you ask anyone for a bus?” I thought about it and answered, “Well, no.” He advised, “You might try that. I asked. It may be that you have not because you ask not.”
Don’t let cost be a factor that keeps you from investing in those who love your church. Show them that their church loves them too. Invite them into a meaningful Lent that will be a time of personal growth. I hope that soon we will be talking about a ministry that is more in-person and less virtual. Either way, it’s all about engagement.
Cokesbury will have copies of Courage: Jesus and the Call to Brave Faith in advance of the posted February 16 publication date. To receive copies in time for Lent, place your order by phone and request an expedited order.