Most churches by now have their services, schedules, and any special elements already planned out for Easter Sunday. In many cases, there will be something different on Easter than usual. Maybe there’s more music, or a musical program offered. Perhaps the worship times have been adjusted for the special day. Maybe your church is meeting in a different location entirely in order to accentuate the special nature of Resurrection Sunday. Having been part of churches that have done all the above, I must admit it can make for a very exciting day.
In most cases, the day is a success, with increased numbers of people coming to participate compared to an average Sunday. In a 2013 report from LifeWay Research, 58% of Protestants, 57% of Catholics and 45% of nondenominational Christians indicated they planned to go to church on Easter. In a previous LifeWay Research survey on church attendance, 32 percent of Protestant pastors said Easter typically has the highest attendance for worship services with 93 percent saying it is in their top three in attendance. The hope in every church, well, at least I hope it’s the hope of every church, is that some of these people will come back.
But do they? Not really.
An article in the Daily Press, indicates a common frustration among pastors, “In the weeks following the major holidays, attendance drops back down.”
Why? I mean, all that work, all that effort, all the money spent on a different venue, all the planning and communication involved in a “special” schedule, all the extra rehearsals and hours spent perfecting the special music… In the Daily Press piece, a Pastor actually dressed up like Indiana Jones! Can you imagine the effort? Do you know how hard it is to get that costume just right?
Maybe we’re making Easter too “special.”
When Christians meet to worship they are worshipping a risen Lord. Every gathering is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Every week of worship is “special” and deserving of our best efforts in preparing to serve God and our neighbors with humility and excellence. While Easter is a particular time to focus on the hope of the Resurrection, maybe our normally “special” efforts are better than making the day so differently “special” from the rest of the year.
Think about it, you invite a guest, or a guest shows up to your Easter service at a different time than usual, in a different place than usual, with more greeters than usual, different music than usual, a different preaching approach than usual, resulting in a completely different experience than usual for your church. So, the following week, when you return to your regularly scheduled programming; where they come back at the usual time, location, and hear the usual music and preaching, what have they just experienced?
The “special” service created expectations that we have no intention or capacity on which to deliver. I mean, where’s the bullwhip and Fedora this week, pastor? Who was it they experienced on Easter in comparison to who it is they are experiencing now: Which experience was your “real” church?
It’s a bait-and-switch (unless the pastor is going to dress like Indy every week; that might actually be kind of neat … sorry, I was distracted by the shiny gold thing that “BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!!!) …
After 24 years of ministry in churches ranging from 100 to 10,000, where I’ve seen all kinds of efforts to reach people, I absolutely believe we should strive for excellence in every aspect of ministry every week. I also believe “special” should be our “normal,” and will, therefore, represent our true identity.
So, if you have the opportunity this Easter, keep your regularly special schedule, in your regularly special location, with your regularly special greeters, teachers, musicians, and preachers. When guests come out on Easter, welcome them in your regularly special way, so that when they come back next week and the week after, they realize they’ve experienced the true identity of a community committed to the good news of the Resurrection in a consistently special way.
By the way, if you want to check out the regularly strange and special church I get to pastor, we would LOVE to meet you! On Easter, Calvary Baptist Church of Las Cruces, NM will meet at our regular location and at our regular times (8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 am), with our LiveStream/online service at 9:45 MST. To learn more, visit cbclascruces.org