If every church had a chocolate fountain, chocolate crosses and chocolate sweets readily available for congregants during worship, what would it do for attendances?
A quirky Lent experiment by a Church of Scotland minister in Bo’ness might not provide a sufficient research basis for this rather sticky question - but then the Rev Albert Bogle is keen to point out that he is not trying to deliberately entice non-churchgoers back into the fold with 'sweet inducements'!
Instead, Bogle wants to remind his congregation (and the wider church, and anyone else who's listening) of a neglected part of the true meaning of the Lent season - taking up, not just giving up... and certainly not 'giving up' in the sense of merely shrugging your shoulders over the many challenges facing us in the world today.
The canny Presbyterian minister, from St Andrew’s Church in Bo'ness, Scotland, is the key mover behind the aptly named 'Chocolate Sunday', which will be held on 7 March 2010 - and may end up being copied or adapted by quite a few others, too.
Bogle explained: “Too often we give up the things that cost us very little. We won't change the world by giving up chocolate, but we can [make a real difference] if we take up a cause that's worth dying for."
He added: "It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek... people can eat the chocolate, but what we really want to do is 'take up our crosses', as Jesus puts it in the Gospel, and start serving others.”
In many parts of the world, Christians speaking up for peace and justice really do face life-and-death issues. But the Bo'ness parish believes that the daily routine, which is what most people have to contend with most of the time, is also a key arena for serving others and growing in faith and hope.
The examples the Kirk minister gives for his 'take up' Lent message include becoming more involved in regular church life, engaging yourself in local community groups and activities, and being actively concerned for your immediate neighbours - in a society so fast paced that these 'little kindnesses', which make a huge difference to many people's lives, get overlooked.
Mr Bogle and members of his church are also keen to explore different ways the Kirk can utilise technological advances to encourage participation and awareness. Texting, Twitter and other social media already play a significant role in the life of the congregation.
Unusually, and contrary to instructions now offered in many local churches, worshippers are encouraged to keep their phones on during the service - so that they can text prayer requests to the minister. These then appear on screens at the front as something for the congregation to see, recall and act on.
Not for everyone, maybe. Some of us who spend too much time 'connected' might hope for a bit of respite during our Sunday service sojourn. But with others, it's proving a hit.
During each of the 40 days of Lent, people linked with St Andrew's who have signed up for alerts will also be receiving a daily biblical verse by text or email as part of the church's seasonal initiative.
So far, however, no-one has come up with an electronic method of passing round the chocolate!
More on Lent from Ekklesia here: http://ekklesia.co.uk/tags/1857
Those wanting to source fair trade chocolate for Lent - or perhaps rather more conventionally, for Easter - can consult Ekklesia's guide and links here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/lifestyle/fairtrade/fairtrade_chocolate_guide