Four hundred ninety-nine years down, one to go! The 500th anniversary of the Reformation has been a long time coming, but some people in the pews might not know it’s here or why it’s important. And that makes planning your big Reformation event much more difficult. Here are some tips and resources for educating your members about the Reformation, building momentum toward the anniversary, and getting them on board for your Reformation 500 event.
Introduce a new, regular element to your services.
Your worship services are your core time with your people. So if you want to introduce the Reformation to everyone at once, this is the place to do it. Think of this as a ripple effect; your Sunday-morning change is the stone being dropped.
Make use of this time to introduce your members to what happened during the Reformation and how it affects us today. You’ll be educating them not just about Reformation history but also about the continuity of the Christian faith, all the way from Jesus and the apostles to us today. And that’s great fodder for witnessing one’s faith—especially on the eve of such an important anniversary.
Your new element doesn’t have to be anything drastic. For instance, consider using one of these resources:
- Faces of the Reformation bulletin inserts and Bible studies. Once a month, introduce your members to a new person from Reformation-era history. They’ll learn the big picture of the Reformation and see how God used regular people to do His extraordinary work. Inserts are available in Spanish too.
- Heirs of the Reformation CD. Introduce them to the hymns that were sung right after Luther’s time—and that we still sing today! They’ll see that the Lutheran Church Fathers confessed the same faith we do, and that the Reformation really is relevant to us now.
- Maps and timeline of Reformation history. Use these during Sunday School and adult Bible study to bring further depth to the lessons.
- Free Divine Service settings. If a completely special service is the way you want to go, use one of these. They’ve got preaching resources, children’s messages, and ready-to-print liturgies and music. The sermons are also available in Spanish.
Get people thinking about the Reformation outside of church.
It’s easy for people to walk out the church doors on Sunday and instantly forget everything they heard. So before you ask them to witness about what you taught them about the Reformation, you first have to make sure they remember it.
Part of this comes down to how you teach about the Reformation. History becomes exciting when we learn about the drama behind it—the blood and scandals. So talk about the Reformation like it’s a story. It was scandalous! It had a really bold, outspoken guy at the center of it. Teach it this way, and your people are bound to remember it.
Here are some more things that can help bring the Reformation to life for your members and get them thinking about it Monday through Saturday:
- Reformation Rock video. Get a song stuck in their heads! And this song will get stuck in their heads. Reformation Rock is based on Schoolhouse Rock. It’s a short video with a catchy tune that teaches about the people and events involved in the Reformation. Play the video in Sunday School and adult Bible study. Play it two or three times.
- Digital flannelgraph. Sunday School teachers can make great use of this with young children. The five scenes help kids explore Luther’s life and important events during the Reformation.
- Martin Luther and Katie Luther graphic novels. A large majority of young adult fiction readers are actually adults, so these books aren’t just limited to the kids in your congregation. These books tell the stories of Martin and Katie’s lives in a very visual story format.
- Which Reformer Are You? quiz. Who doesn’t love personality quizzes? Share this quiz with your members—perhaps you could do it via your church’s social media channels. You’ll teach your members about the Reformation, and if they share it, you’ll also have inspired them to share some of that knowledge with others.
Empower your people to share their faith outside of church.
Your members now know about what happened during the Reformation. You’ve helped them see the connection between the Reformation and their faith today. They know why the Reformation still matters. Now, encourage them to talk about it with people outside of church.
As they come back to adult Bible class in the weeks following, start a group conversation about how the witnessing is going. Encourage your members to share their experiences, and start introducing the idea of an organized outreach event (i.e., the big Reformation celebration). Give them time to ponder it and bring forward their ideas.
Here are some things that can help your members start faith conversations and witness to people:
- Reformation 500 gear. Shirts, baseball caps, water bottles, stickers, coffee mugs—any of these things could start a faith conversation between a member and someone else. All it takes is someone asking, “Hey, what’s Reformation 500?”
- New Testament Outreach Bible. Someone asks one of your people who Jesus is, or says they’ve never read the Bible, or says they want to learn more about God. Here’s a lightweight, easy-to-transport edition of the New Testament your member can give to that person. It’s also available in cases of 50.
- It’s Still All About Jesus logo. Download this logo for free. Use it to get the word out about your church’s beliefs regarding the Reformation. You can also use it to help advertise your church’s Reformation celebration later down the road.
- 95 Theses (Pack of 10). Encourage your members to go back to the source of what makes Lutherans distinctly Lutheran. Not only will that help clarify aspects of their own faith, but it will also prepare them for being asked how their faith differs from that of Catholics.
Start involving your people in planning the special event.
So the outreach has gone well, and now your people are empowered to do a special Reformation event. Woo-hoo! Now what?
Use the ideas and talents of your members! Have a wild brainstorm session. Maybe deck out the pastor in sixteenth-century garb and a Luther wig. Decorate the fellowship hall. Have a costume competition. Play Pin the Thesis on the Door. Make the 2017 Reformation Day service just like a regular sixteenth-century church service. Whatever your ideas are, start planning them now to avoid a lot of last-minute stress.
Some resources you can use include the following:
- Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation. Do some research and find out what worship services were like in the old days. Then start thinking about how you can incorporate some of those elements into your service and celebration.
- VBS decorations. Repurpose VBS decorations to set the scene for your party. Have a stone wall backdrop, castle doors and windows, ivy garland, and medieval table covers.
- Smile! God Loves You (Pack of 50). If you’re pairing your Reformation celebration with a fall festival, this tract can be something you pass out with candy.
- Documentary. In 2017, PBS is releasing a documentary about the Reformation. It’s got some amazing-looking reenactments, hairstyles and all. Perhaps you could play this documentary during your celebration and also make it a movie night!
Building up to a big 500th anniversary event will probably be a slow burn in your church. But you can make it happen. For more ideas and free resources, check out LutheranReformation.org. More resources for purchase are also available from CPH.