When it comes to Easter, churches tend to roll out the red carpet for visitors. Already major marketing plans are underway to attract the unchurched masses. Anticipating a larger-than-usual crowd, what with the economic situation, pastors and worship teams are meeting to discuss themes, strategies, and tactics to invite the unchurched to consider the gospel, perhaps for the very first time. Since Easter Sunday is typical host to the second best attended annual church worship service, it is natural to presume that those sitting in the pews are green and hopeful and open to hearing the good news.

The reality of who’s who in the Easter pew can be a bit disquieting for those who haven’t taken the time to reflect on the matter. Many church leaders have been operating on the presumption that all those guests are at least moderately open to the faith, when in fact, that’s not necessarily the case. Instead, here is a thumbnail sketch of those who will probably grace your worship services.

Many of your guests will probably…

  • be invited by a relative;
  • attend out of obligation or as a favor to said relative;
  • have significant church history (i.e., they used to attend church); and
  • be resistant to both the church and the gospel.

Of course, that’s not a picture of all your guests. Some of your guests will be…

  • members who attend church twice a year whether they need to or not;
  • non-members who attend church twice a year whether they need to or not; or
  • non-members who have significant church history, but are not involved in a local church.

These folks are also likely resistant to the church, though not as much to the gospel.

Finally, you will likely have some visitors from out of town who don’t fit into either of the above categories, and you may even get a couple of guests who are scoping out your church and are excellent membership prospects.

On the other hand, on Easter, a church is least likely to experience a sudden influx of people who are outside the faith and sincerely seeking answers to their spiritual dilemmas. Churches that host a couple of these spiritual wanderers every week or so will probably see about the same number as on any other Sunday. Congregations that rarely entertain a wanderer in a typical weekly worship service are unlikely to see one on Easter either.

The likely guest list has a few implications that may help with Easter planning – especially around worship themes and the content of the message.

  1. First, don’t take my word on it … your context may be different. It is possible that come Easter Sunday you’ll have a slew of the never-churched wanderers packing your pews. However, whenever anomalies are mentioned, far too many church leaders presume that their churches are the exceptions to the rule. You might be… but then again, you might not.
  2. When it comes to crafting a theme and a message, a laser is a better choice than a shotgun. Ask yourself and your worship team which audience you’re best equipped and/or called to reach. Your church members will be moved, touched, and inspired by one theme, whereas your gospel and church resistant guests would likely find that same theme irrelevant or unstimulating. On the other hand, a theme and message that might make your unchurched guests sit up and take notice could leave your regular membership shaking their heads. As tough as it seems, you’ll need to make a choice. Legend has it that Bill Easum didn’t always preach Easter on Easter Sunday; instead, he crafted his Easter message specifically to reach the once-or-twice-a-year crowd. The resurrection sermon for his members was celebrated on a different Sunday so that he could leverage the Easter service in order to reach that hard-to-reach crowd.
  3. Easter guests are probably the most difficult crowd to inspire because they have largely been inoculated from the church and even from Christianity. That makes your job all the more difficult. If your hope, prayer, and plan is to reach your Easter guests, not only do the Easter theme and message have to be compelling, they have to be as flawlessly executed as possible. Good enough isn’t good enough, especially for this service. If you have never done a worship run-through (rehearsal with your musician, choir, tech team, pastor, etc.), this is the service to try it out on.
  4. Finally, don’t put all your Easter eggs into one basket. Make sure that you have an irresistible hand-out that’s been designed specifically for your guests. The hand-out could be a sermon series that guests are so excited about that they’re clamoring to get an advanced copy of the outline, or it could be an event so fabulous that they’d be willing to stand in line overnight to get tickets. And yes, to grab this particular crowd, it really does have to be that good. Again, this is not the time for guesses or good enough. Put as much work into developing the “what’s next” as you do into your Easter service.

Easter Sunday is typically the second largest attended worship service of the year. Make the most of it by being ready for the crowd that will actually be attending.

Question: What are some specific ways you might shape your Easter service to appeal to twice-a-year churchgoers? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.