"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
Easter is a big day for Christian Church. That seems self-evident, what with the resurrection forming the basis of our hope and all. But that’s not the what I mean.
All over, churches spent weeks if not months preparing for the big day. Flowers. Decorations. Extra cleaning. Parking lot greeters. Bags for first time visitors (or first time since Christmas visitors). Video productions and advertisements. Slick publications. Special bulletins. Special music. Extra instruments. The list goes on.
Those services, for the most part, did not disappoint. Thrilling anthems. Thunderous sermons. Highly polished worship fit to celebrate our risen Lord and all His glory. And they were impressive for more than their liturgical content. Many churches—most churches—well more than doubled their regular attendance on Easter. Staff and members alike posted pictures of rarely filled sanctuaries running over with people. Children ran and played on playgrounds and in churchyards hunting eggs and reminding long-quiet buildings of the marvelous sound that is children laughing.
Easter Sunday belongs to the church, a day when people fan the flame of their faith and venture in. It is fitting that this day, Easter, is the Church’s moment of greatest triumph—surely the best of times.
Or is it?
The festive, joy-filled pictures of Easter morning imply a sad truth: for each picture of Easter joy there are fifty-one other pictures are much bleaker. They depict an increasingly secular world in which Sunday has become little more than a second Saturday.
Oh, how we want to hold fast to Easter! So many of the special treatments we dial up for Easter are aimed at capturing people, reeling them back in, and reconnecting them with the church. We hand out gifts and flyers. We educate them about all the amazing things our church is doing. We deploy special teams to follow up with visitors. We provide more opportunities for fellowship. We pull out all the stops—literally and metaphorically—in hopes that just a few folks will remember why they once came to church. And then, a week later, we lament that it didn’t stick. We head back to the drawing board, wondering where we went wrong. Maybe people just didn’t want to give us their address. Maybe people just don’t care about church anymore. Maybe we should save ourselves a long, drawn-out experience and just go ahead and close the doors now. Surely, the worst of times.
Maybe I’m just strange, but that’s Easter for me. It’s at once the best and worst of times. A time when I’m happy to see so many faces, and a time when I regret not seeing them more often. Most of the time I detest numerical metrics for churches, but I wonder if this one is worth checking out: the ratio of average Sunday attendance for the other fifty-one Sundays to Easter Sunday.
More important than the numbers: how can we change it this reality?
Many churches—most churches—seek to change this by adjusting their game plan for Easter. Churches that thrive know this to be a fool’s errand. We will not entice people back based on what we do on Easter Sunday. We will entice people based on what we do on all of the other Sundays.
How would our services of worship change if we applied the same intentionality to their planning that we apply to Easter? How would our hospitality change if we set out to be as welcoming on the other days of the year as we are on Easter—providing novel and numerous opportunities for connection and fellowship? What would the church look like if we took the more traditional view that every Sunday is a little Easter?
So it’s good news/bad news. The good news is that people are fundamentally spiritual beings, and their presence on Easter shows they still feel it. The bad news is they aren’t feeling it strongly enough to fully engage with their communities of faith.