5 Ideas for Creating Meaningful Lenten Services

Lent, as a season, is about reflecting, simplifying, cleansing. It’s about stripping away, forgiveness, and grace. It’s also about love and freedom and growth.

It’s a time we remember Jesus being tempted in the desert for 40 days (hence the reason Lent is 40 days long), teaching the people about God’s love and how we should love others, breaking bread with his disciples, and living out God’s will for his life.

In Lent, we refocus on the renewing waters of baptism, the cleansing river, the fountain of grace.

Some say that the Sundays in Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days; rather, they are considered celebration days or “little Easters" (source). But I think this is missing the point a little: Lent is a journey, a time of self-reflection and examination of the heart, a time when we invite God in to do the work of shaping us and molding us into His likeness.

It’s a process, and it takes time.

How can we create space for this in worship? How can we make this season more meaningful? How can we capture the quietness, the self-reflection, the invitation to come just as we are in our Lenten services? 

Here are 5 ideas:

1  |  Come up with creative ways to begin the service.

Do something out of the norm that gets people’s attention. If you normally start with a quiet instrumental prelude, try doing a choral introit instead. Or, have a soloist sing a cappella from the back of the church, joined by the choir or congregation in a repetitive chorus/call to worship. A few pieces that might work well for this season:

Wade in the Water (vocal or instrumental solo)
Down to the River to Pray (from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”)
Lenten Processional (handbells)

2  |  Bury the “Alleluia.”

This is a long-standing tradition for certain denominations. Basically, it calls for removing “alleluias” from worship during Lent, then resurrecting them on Easter Sunday. It’s a way of providing contrast in our weekly worship services and anticipating the hope and promise of the resurrection.

"Taking a rest from something gives shape and rhythm to life, to worship, to relationships – even to our relationship with God.” (source)

Here are a few practical ways to “bury the alleluia” in your services:

  • If you sing the doxology to the LASST UNS ERFREUEN tune (with the “Alleluias” in the chorus), change to OLD HUNDREDTH or TALLIS CANON for the season of Lent.
     
  • Choose liturgy (calls to worship, creeds, affirmations of faith, prayers, communion liturgy) that don’t include the word “alleluia.”
     
  • Avoid hymns like “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “Come, Christians, Join to Sing,” and “When In Our Music God is Glorified” (all of which include “alleluia” in the text).

Read more about the history behind "burying the alleluia" here.

3  |  Create meaningful invitations for people to come forward.

There are lots of water themes during Lent. In fact, Discipleship Ministries has created a comprehensive Lenten worship guide (with complete service plans, music suggestions, preaching notes, and tons of other resources) based on baptismal vows and the lectionary readings for this year (Year A). Download a copy here.

If you’re connecting to the water theme (at least one of the Sundays in Lent), consider doing a moment to remember your baptism. Invite congregation members to come forward, dip their hand in a bowl of water, and receive a blessing and the sign of the cross on their forehead.

Invite people to come as they are: come to the table, receive communion, accept God’s love and grace.

Invite people to come forward to kneel and pray at the altar (if you have one). Sing music with a repeating chorus - something from the Taize community or a more contemporary chorus, such as “Come Just As You Are” or “Come to the Table of Grace” (Hamm) that can be easily learned.

4  |  Bring the Scripture readings to life.

Sometimes, it’s hard to listen.

There are so many voices we’re trying to hear at once and so many distractions pulling us from one thing to another. It’s hard to quiet the noise, tune out the distractions, and listen closely.

As such, the Scripture readings often get lost. We stop listening after the first few words, caught up in the lull of the reader’s voice or distracted by what else is on our hearts and minds.

How can we make the Scripture readings more engaging, more relevant? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Turn the passage into a dramatic reading. If it’s a shorter text, have the reader speak it from memory, standing out in front of the congregation instead of behind a podium or lectern.
     
  • Read from a modern version. Mix it up every once in a while by reading the passage in modern language that connects to where we are and our world today.
     
  • Retell the story using a skit or monologue. For instance, act out the story of the Samaritan Woman and Jesus at the well. What was that conversation like?
     
  • Create opportunities for congregational participation. Take the reading of the day and make it participatory. Scatter readers around the room and include parts for the congregation to read.

5  |  Give the congregation a tangible action.

There’s something to be said about creating a service of worship that prompts action. Build this in by giving congregation members opportunities throughout Lent to reflect on something during the service and create their own action or commitment to follow-through on something during the week.

Include a blank slip of paper in the bulletin or on each seat and include a moment in the service for quiet reflection and jotting something down. The tangible act of writing it out and the physical reminder during the week to take action and commit to something is the heart of what Lent is really all about.

What do you have planned for Lent?

Read more:
Worship Planning Theme: Water
Resources for Lent
Integrating Visual Arts in Worship
10 Church Choir Anthems for Lent