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Innovative online practices to engage your members during Lent. Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

Online engagement ideas for Lent

By Gavin Richardson

Lent is a time of reflection. It is also a time many individuals seek ways to deepen their spiritual relationships. Here are some creative ways churches can engage members and potential visitors during Lent.

1. Photo-a-Day Meditation: This spiritual practice asks people to focus on a particular word or theme each day during Lent, inviting participants to reflect on the theme and share a photo of something related on social media. Create your own Photo-a-Day challenge by choosing words and themes from the lectionary texts or from a sermon series you are planning. Create a graphic with the words for each day that is easily sharable on social media. Or find examples online that you can use or modify like the RETHINK CHURCH Photo-a-Day challenge or this 2016 one from Alive Now.) Think about collecting images that your members submit and using them in sermon illustrations, slideshows or even a photo book of devotionals.

2. Online Study: In a previous article, we explained how to host an online class. Since people are generally open to new ideas during Lent, it might be the perfect opportunity to try something new. You could create an online study in a very traditional sense by utilizing Skype to connect participants in a virtual class meeting.

3. Online Fast: Invite congregants to unplug from cell phones, email and social media for a day a week or other designated time, giving them more time to read or pray during their “fast.” Challenge members to engage by different means, perhaps a hand-written note, thank you card, or letter for their children or spouse.

4. Stories of Faith: What is your favorite Scripture and why? Ask members if they would be willing to answer this question on video. Create simple one- or two-minute videos using a digital camera or smartphone. You can expand the scope of the videos to allow people to tell a significant story in the life of their faith. Post the videos each day online on a social media platform or your church website. Consider scheduling and pre-posting videos to save time.

5. Text Prayers: If you have a text message system plugged into your community, ask one of your pastors or lay leaders to share a significant word or phrase from their daily prayers. You generally cannot capture a whole prayer in a text message, but sending a capsule of a prayer can encourage others. They might also seek their own daily prayer based on your text.

6. Online Missions Experience: This might be a 40 day period of fundraising for a particular mission of the church (Imagine No MalariaGlobal AIDS Fund, an Advance project, etc). It could also be a daily or weekly effort to raise awareness within your congregation.

7. Go On Pilgrimage: Set up a blog for those who might want to go on an actual pilgrimage in- or out-of-town. Tumblr is easy to use and mobile-friendly. Share daily experiences, photos and videos. If you can’t make a physical trip, go virtually using Google Earth. For example, you can download Google Earth coordinates to "walk" the Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross). You must first download Google Earth's desktop application to open the file and view the stations.

8. 40 Days Meditation: For each day of Lent, share a visual meditation via email or social media. Consider using stock photographs that go along with a daily meditation. Using an email service or third party social media platform, you can pre-post all these daily images and meditations to send to your community.

9. Gracious Giving: The idea of giving graciously and generously is a core tenet of our faith. Encourage your congregation to give generously, in a different way, throughout Lent. The people of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church participate in their own version of this each year as part of their “Christmas is Not Your Birthday” effort. The idea is showing grace in such a generous fashion it is hard for people not to share it.

This is just a small batch of ideas for engaging others during this upcoming season. Hopefully this article will help you think of additional ways to deepen your congregation’s faith and extend the mission of your church.