Lenten Midweek - Worship and Outreach

Ready to try something different for Lenten midweek? Something other than a six week series of sermons called “___________ of the Passion”?

Consider making your midweek worship drastically different than Sunday morning. Make it much shorter. Make it more devotional in style. Can you rearrange the seating to accommodate a more intimate gathering with the smaller number of attendees? Can you rethink midweek services—not as a Hauptgottesdienst when it’s dark out—but rather as an evening devotion for the family of God?

At Faith (Sharpsburg, GA) we use the 40 days of Lent as a time for repentance and renewal of faith by focusing on the catechism. Rather than meditating on the events of Holy Week, we’re going to be spending some time with one of the chief parts and then leave Holy Week for the week before Easter. In years past, we have spent Lent meditating on Baptism, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Communion, etc. This year, we will focus on the Creed.

Our devotional plan look like this:

  • Ash Wednesday: We have a devotion on the Gospel appointed for Ash Wednesday, with a focus on our mortality, our sin and repentance before God. We offer imposition of ashes for those who desire it.
  • Midweek #2: The First Article: We are believers
  • Midweek #3: The Second Article: We are Christians (Part 1)
  • Midweek #4: The Second Article: We are Christians (Part 2)
  • Midweek #5: The Third Article: We are Lutherans
  • Midweek #6: Congregational Canvass

Each of the midweek devotions is preceded by a simple congregational dinner at 6pm. The devotions start at 6:45pm and are brief—no more than a half hour. People can have their kids in bed by 7:30pm. This has helped families with young children attend.

In the final week of Lent, the congregation meets for a quick dinner and then we go out and invite a local neighborhood to join us for Easter services. It has become a natural way for the faith we discuss for five weeks to produce fruit. We get a great turn out for that canvass event and consequently cover lots of ground with our Easter invitations.

Worship and outreach—they are the two great reasons for which the Church exists—for the glory of God and the salvation of man.

Rev. Jonathan E. Schroeder

Jonathan Schroeder is the pastor of Faith Lutheran in Sharpsburg, GA. He serves as the Moderator of the Institute of Worship and Outreach, pastor-at-large on the Synodical Council, and is actively involved in WELS School of Outreach and WELS School of Worship.

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Keep on Doing Outreach

Let me tell you about my friend Ted. When our church in Arcadia, WI was first getting started, we hosted a free community picnic. We rented the biggest shelter in town. A company donated food. Several dozen members of our mother church came to welcome the flood of guests we expected. Our summer canvassers spent a week preparing and promoting. Four people from the community came. Two couples. Seemed like a waste.

When I followed up on one gentleman who came, he introduced me to his next door neighbor Ted. Ted was interested in our church. Ted started coming. Ted has developmental disabilities, so we walked through the Bible studies orally. It was fun. Ted was actually our first adult confirmand in Arcadia. But after a while, for a number of reasons, Ted stopped coming to our church. Seemed like a waste again.

So often, our outreach efforts seem in vain, so we stop reaching out. That canvass didn’t get any members. Never doing that again. Those prospects haven’t been back to church for months. No point in following up.

But then Jesus worked a miracle. After several years, Ted called up. He asked if he could come back to our church. “Of course!” He asked, “Can my friend Jon come along?” “Of course!”

Jon took adult instruction classes and was confirmed. Ted and Jon brought another friend, Mike and then another friend Dan and another friend Teresa. Teresa can hardly speak, but it was clear she enjoyed coming to church and longed to receive the Lord’s Supper. After instructing Teresa, she was confirmed as well. Five friends, all living in the same apartment building, all from the witness of friends. And that doesn’t count Amy the social worker and her daughter and fiancee who started coming to church and were confirmed because, in Amy’s own words, “Ted wouldn’t stop inviting me!” So that’s eight precious souls from one person witnessing.

Too often we see outreach as a vending machine. We expect to put a little in and get something back right away. “How many people came to church waving that postcard we mailed out?” “How many new members has our preschool brought in?” Instead, isn’t outreach more like a slot machine? People will stand at a slot machine for hours, just waiting to hit the jackpot. People who have won a jackpot will talk about it for years. When it comes to outreach, every soul is a jackpot. Was that picnic ten years ago worth it? Absolutely. We met Ted and his soul is the jackpot. Then we hit the jackpot again and again and again and again. Keep on doing outreach!

Rev. Nathan Strutz

Nathan Strutz serves as pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Verona, WI. He serves the WELS as chairman of the Western Wisconsin District Mission Board.

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The "Giant Narthex" Idea

Our narthex is not giant. Like most 1950’s-era churches of neo-gothic design, our building offers hardly any space for the kind of pre- and post-service conversation that people of today want and need. Many congregations have done an excellent job of addressing this situation with a building project. Newly constructed space for greeting can be a great way to help visitors and members feel more welcome. But is there anything you can do in the short term? If yours is a big old church with a tiny narthex, read on…

The problem isn’t about finding space to visit before the service. The push of the crowd isn’t as powerful then, because people arrive at different times. Anyone who wants to chat with a friend or a visitor on the way in can usually do so without much trouble. The real challenge happens when the service is done. In a good-sized congregation with a small greeting space you’d better not stop on the way out of church or you’ll be trampled. The post-service push barely gives people time to shake a pastor’s hand.

So here’s the idea: instead of ushering people out after the service, find a friendly and creative way to encourage them to stay and talk. What you’re doing is temporarily turning your nave into a giant narthex. One key word here is “temporarily.” The nave is of course designed for worship. It is laid out in a way that enables people to proclaim law and gospel to one another. Pulpit, font, and altar are in plain view, the visible symbols of God’s means of grace. We’re not suggesting anyone dismiss the design of the nave for the sake of small talk. During the service, the nave serves its purpose. After the service, nave can serve as narthex.

This is how it looks in our church: our service ends with the benediction or a closing hymn. The bulletin reads: “Musical Postlude: a quiet minute for reflection and prayer.” Our musicians really do keep the music to a minute or less. Quiet music helps people stay quiet themselves. We’re creating a buffer. We’re giving people time to transition from the Lord’s blessing to the pot luck reminders. When the music stops, it’s clear that the service has ended. Now the nave becomes a narthex. It’s time for announcements, and it’s time to talk, time for members to greet fellow members, time for guests to be welcomed. We tell our people to stay as long as they like. We let them dismiss themselves whenever they’re ready. There’s time; Bible class doesn’t start for another fifteen minutes. After our late service some people stay for a good half hour.

In life, in business, in church work, most ideas are either expensive, time-consuming, or difficult. If it’s cheap and easy, it probably takes time. If it’s easy and fast, it’s probably expensive. If it’s cheap and fast, it’s probably difficult. This “giant narthex” idea certainly won’t convert unbelievers or strengthen the faithful. But it might help members and visitors feel more welcome in your church. On top of that it’s as easy as pie, it’s instantly usable, and it won’t cost you a dime.

Rev. Jon Zabell

Pastor Zabell is pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI. Zabell serves as St. Paul’s Minister of Music and Family. In addition to his congregational duties, Zabell is the chairman of the WELS Commission on Worship.

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