Easter Sunday brings special joy in many ways. It’s wonderful to see so many gather in worship to rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord and remember his redeeming sacrifice for us.
Most churches see a boost in attendance on Easter, which brings a special joy to church leaders and members. For many congregations, it’s the one Sunday when the pews are full. It’s an exhilarating sight.
But in the following days, as the wilting flowers are collected, church leaders wonder–aloud or silently–how many of those “Easter Christians” will return and become regular attendees. They fear that most won’t. And in the succeeding weeks, as attendance indeed tapers off again, some leaders and members feel an uneasy sense of dissipation, of rejection, of failure.
But I think that’s the devil whispering. That kind of thinking seeps from a faulty concept of the true mission of the church. You see, many church people measure success primarily upon the number of attendees/spectators in the weekly gathering. So, Easter success is ultimately measured by the number of Easter visitors who return and become regular attendees.
Though regularly gathering with fellow believers is certainly a good and biblical practice, it’s not the ultimate mission for the Body of Christ. It was not the central focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In fact, as far as we can tell, most of Jesus’ contacts with people were one-time encounters. He did not base his ultimate success on how many people he could convince to physically gather at a particular location for umpteen weekends in a row.
Jesus showed us–and calls us–to share his love, and make disciples. Sometimes that will happen through repeat interactions and ongoing relationships. And sometimes it will happen through one-time encounters–when God places us in just the right spot, at just the right moment, to plant a little seed of faith that will later grow. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.”
Was Easter Sunday a success this year? If you had a hand in lovingly planting a seed of faith, you succeeded beautifully. Even if you never see the growth that follows. That’s God’s part.
Glenda commented on Facebook: “I think your definitions regarding success are spot on!”
Steve wrote on Facebook: “Perhaps they would prefer ekklesia!”
Group dynamic theory posits that those in attendance were the ones who needed to be there–take pentecost, for instance.
Those who worry about the post easter drop off may be putting too much stock in doing well rather than doing good.
Besides, it would be difficult to host that many each week!
Good thoughts. Thanks!
Another question to consider: How many regular churchgoers will reach out to the visitors, get to know them, practice hospitality and look for ways to serve them? Making disciples is more about going and giving than expecting others to come to us, learn about us, serve us and give to us.
So true Thom. It is difficult to sometimes discern how deeply our westernized view of success is embedded into our view of the church. Making disciples is more about how we interface with those the Father puts in our path, rather than what we can do to get people in the doors.
Good one Thom !!!
Good soup Thom. So many pastors beat themselves up and feel like failures because they are measuring themselves against a definition of success that is driven by the financial model of the western church. I did the same thing when I was pastoring, because that’s all I knew. Thank you for encouraging all ministers to evaluate their work through a Jesus-Centered lens.
It is not always the devil speaking. It is a prod to reevaluate WHY people do not return after Easter. What is wrong with a church that attracts people because of its stunning architecture or prestigious name, but does not offer what it takes for them to return? I am not talking about numbers or full pews; I am talking about fulfilling the deep needs of the community. It may be that most people come to church on Easter to fulfill an annual obligation, be with family (some of them undoubtedly live out of town), or to give their kids a taste of religion; but some may be truly seeking the spiritual and Easter is a good time for that or they may not be, but find it anyway.
My church has a homeless food ministry. Every week, about 100 homeless people come for a hot lunch–and in this city, that is a drop in the bucket. But they come every week because their needs are met, if only for an hour. They are fed, they are treated as equals by the mor fortunate members of our congregation, there is a very short homily and prayer. Some even participate in the cooking and serving and worship. For one hour a week, there is no partiality.
So why don’t the Easter people come back, at least the ones who are hungering? Because these dynamics are not occurring in the main worship.
I was so upset after worship on Sunday. We put on a wonderful show–the children’s choirs sang several times, the handbells played, the adult choir and organists were magnificent–but the service was way too long, way too talky, way too detached from the people in the pews. Do they really care to hear 10 minutes of announcements or a downer sermon or 10 minutes of communion liturgy that is more Roman than Genevan? I didn’t, and I have been going to church almost every week of my life for 68 years.
There is one reason to be concerned about numbers: Numbers can indicate a church is fulfilling its mission. That’s why we get 100 homeless people for lunch, but struggle to get 200 people in the pews, even counting the 35-40 people in the choir loft.
For any given church, some percentage of regular attenders aren’t present on a Sunday due to vacations, illness, work, family activity, sleeping in, etc. On Easter, the regulars make a bit more effort to make that one of the Sundays’ that they determine they will be there. Consequently, a 10-20% attendance increase may really just be the result of most ‘regular’s making sure they make it to the service. Oh, yes, there probably are a few who just go on Easter & Christmas, but I’d suspect that it’s far few than we imagine…
It depends on the church and location. We easily get 100 to 150 percent more than the usual attendance. It was the same at the previous church I attended in the same city. It has to do with tradition, the history and longevity of the congregation, visiting families, the beauty of the sanctuary, and and the music. It’s Pasadena, those things matter.
Loved this statement: “In fact, as far as we can tell, most of Jesus’ contacts with people were one-time encounters. He did not base his ultimate success on how many people he could convince to physically gather at a particular location for umpteen weekends in a row.” It’s a good reminder that Jesus’ ministry took place OUTSIDE the four walls of a church, which is what my pastor tells the congregation often.
I remember helping with Easter event parking for a very large Orlando church. I guided a car into the parking space and I noticed an out-of-state tag. The occupants got out and asked who the Magic (local basketball team) were playing that evening!
If your goal is just to fill the building, maybe you’ve got that wrong goal. In fact, if you lost the building and lost the paid staff, what would your congregation look like? What’s left is the real body of Christ.
I used to say about the gothic church I attended that the best thing that could happen would be for a massive earthquake to bring the sanctuary down. For my current church, I say the best thing would be for everyone int he choir to be out sick for two weeks and the organ console to be ruined by fire or water damage. It all goes back to what is truly worshiped in any given congregation.
Great message Thom!!! You’re always speaking in relevant terms to what us Pastors are thinking about and dealing with!!! Bless you my friend!!! Pastor Joe Patterson @LCPastorJoe