Most church folks know that the two times a year that new people often come to church are on Easter and Christmas Eve. We also know that the number of folks that actually come back or develop a meaningful relationship with the church from those worship experiences is pretty low. So frustrating. Don't they like us? I mean really, we bust out the real dishes for coffee hour and everything. Come on people, give us a chance ...
As we approach Easter 2011, let me offer an idea why about this happens and make a case for what we might do to change this reality. Basically, I think we give an inordinate about of attention to our Easter service. Yes, Easter is an important celebration in the life of the church and, yes, God is certainly pleased when we worship and give thanks in God's name. But ... I kinda think that God may simply be humoring us in our misguided attempt to throw an Easter party for God. I am sure God enjoys pageants and brass as much as anyone and I am sure God is grateful for those folks who do take the time to connect to the church even once a year even, if only out of familial obligation. But I would posit that God might be more pleased if we approached this Easter time in our worship life a little differently.
I am not talking about taking away the men's breakfast or canceling the Easter Egg hunt ... as I would never encourage anyone to invite the wrath of a disappointed, empty-basket-holding toddler. Some of the special things that we do around this time are just lovely. What I would challenge us to think about is doing something radically different for our Easter worship services by not really doing anything radically different for our Easter worship service.
We put so much extra energy and time into our special services. We create special art installations, pull out the drama for the kids, we present choral pieces that require extra instrumentation and in most cases we do all of the above. In our hopes to please God, we go all out, especially for Easter. Well-intentioned rhythmic church activity, but activity that end up with people who are burned out and a worship service that looks nothing like the service that is held on a normal Sunday.
And why is this bad you ask? Why shouldn't we give 110% and do it all up for God on Easter, you wonder? Quite simply, because it usually is more about perpetuating our own habits and expectations, than about sharing our faith in meaningful and life-changing ways with those who might be searching.
Now I do not mean to dismiss the extra primping and preparation that comes with expected visitors. These are great expressions of hospitality for the stranger. The problem I have is that we too often put on a "show" for visitors rather than invite them to experience the community that is the church. How powerful would it be to have an Easter worship service that is inspiring, energetic, moving and transformative and be able to say, "If you have experienced something profound today, do come back, because this is what is like every Sunday here at ..."
You see, by creating these "productions," especially around Easter, most churches only perpetuate the practice of coming to church only on special days because we have, in fact, said that this day is more worthy than any others. The other thing that happens is that folks might indeed be inspired by the service to visit again, and lo and behold, "normal" Sunday worship is a let down devoid of the same energy, creativity and quite honestly, the commitment to worshipping God with joy.
So my "answer" to the rotating turnstile of Easter visitors is this: rather than put all our energy into one kick-butt worship service, use the Easter season as one that might inspire the rest of the year. We should plan our services with unabashed creativity and inspired energy as if this is what it will look like every Sunday ... and then we must make it so. In addition to the pageants and productions, this too may give honor and glory to God ... and who knows, some new folks might find their faith along the way.