Easter Sunday remains one of the most-attended services each year, and local spiritual leaders will never deny a curious mind or heart. However, the ever-present question for them remains – how will they draw the unchurched or those seeking a worship spot to call home? The Leader decided to speak with area pastors to get a deeper look into their efforts at encouraging a return to the pews this Easter.
Pastor David Harrison at First Church Heights said using celebratory occasions such as Easter in attempts to bring in new members is a constant tug-of-war with the allure of modern society.
“I believe it takes a very courageous person to remain true to the scriptures and not deviate in a post-Christian world. It is very difficult to stay true to the scriptures and try to meet people’s needs,” he said. “The further we’ve gotten away from true Christian values, it’s almost like the church is making concessions just to get people to come in.”
So, Harrison said it’s a question of how he and his congregation can remain true to biblical principles while continuing to meet the needs of people from different local, spiritual and global backgrounds.
“What I teach at First Church is to love people, no matter where they come from, but to not deviate from your scriptural convictions to appease anybody – love from a pure heart and sound mind.”
For Harrison, salvation and election are strictly a work of God; but the idea of bringing people to maturity is the work of the local church, and is a calling which cannot be compromised in any circumstance – no matter the purpose, time of year, or how pure the intentions.
“That work of discipleship is the same for every church, but how we explore and implement it in people’s lives is always going to look different,” he said.
In that vein, Harrison said he does not necessarily set out each year with a plan on how to draw in members for the annual service – rather, he is simply Spirit-led all the time.
In 2018, he said, God has laid on his heart a calling to invite three people or families out in the community who are not regular church-goers. So that’s a challenge he has issued to his congregation, and he will not deviate from preaching from the book of Revelation at 10:30 a.m. Easter Sunday.
“We have to get away from this mindset of them being “CME” members – Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter,” he said. “If a person is only going to come to church one time a year, then be sure that service is so awesome, that if they don’t come back until next year, they’re full enough that it will hold them over until next year.”
Rev. Lindsay Hatch at Heights Presbyterian agreed with the challenging sentiment; but with a slight addendum that has become a focus of the church’s congregation – how to keep the crowds in the church outside the mass service attendance during token times.
A typical Easter service, she said, brings about 100 to Heights Presbyterian, compared to about half that total the rest of the year.
“The Sunday after Easter is one of the lowest attended Sundays of the year,” she said. “I want to encourage people to remember that the Resurrection is still amazing, life-changing Good News the Sunday after Easter as it is at the empty tomb on Easter morning,” she said.
Hatch said Heights Presbyterian will still hold its annual Easter Breakfast, Egg Hunt for the Children, and Sunday worship service complete with flowering of the cross at 11 a.m. as planned. This year, however, they are adding a new wrinkle to deepen the meaning of the service even more – a Maundy Thursday service at 6:30 p.m.. Maundy Thursday represents the time when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and celebrates the Last Supper with them, instituting the Christian celebration of Communion. In doing so, Hatch and Heights Presbyterian seek to build an even deeper bond with the Heights community and their own faith.
“This year we will celebrate communion and then as people become used to the idea of the service, we hope to introduce a foot/hand washing element as well, hopefully next year,” she said. “Easter is still one of the largest attended Sundays all year, and it’s a great time to renew our faith commitments and get back in touch with God and the community of faith that nurtures us.”
Despite not presenting a new front, Harrison said First Church is doing something which deviates a bit from their normal schedule.
Instead their normal Bible study last Wednesday, the congregation put on a play called “Someone’s coming to Church,” which focused on three fictional families’ coming of faith stories. And its message, he said, can have a ripple effect far beyond just Easter Sunday.
“It’s just about helping folks understand the importance of loving people who normally don’t come to church,” he said.