After a year filled with lockdowns and online options and outdoor worship services and socially-distanced indoor services and mask mandates and hand sanitizer by the truckload, Easter 2021 has the potential to be a very large weekend, indeed.
Besides the emergence from a global pandemic, Easter weekend is one of the two largest church attendance weekends in any calendar year. People attend church with Grandma. Irreligious people come because it’s still the socially acceptable thing to do in some parts of the country. Folks who are normally sporadic in attendance wouldn’t think of skipping church on Easter.
But because of COVID, Easter may feel like the right time to return. People may have subliminally set Resurrection Sunday as their “back to church” date. Decreased case counts and increased vaccination rates may give people the courage to gather in a group again.
But whether we’re talking about unusual years like 2021 or somewhat more normal years (whatever those are), we need to talk about pastors.
It’s a sad but true statement: we pastors generally don’t know what to do with the new-found fullness of our auditoriums. So we panic. We nervously resort to humor or snarkiness or futile attempts at bridging the gap.
We say things like, “We want to extend a welcome to the poinsettia and lily crowd!” or “Thanks for coming. We’ll see you again at Christmas.” Or the covid-era favorite: “I’m not sure why you’re complaining about face coverings … some of you have worn masks to church for years.”
And while we think it’s cute, or funny, or disarming, it’s really anything but.
What we mean to be appealing is insulting.
What we hope makes a point is really pointless.
Instead of drawing people in, it chases them away. Instead of bringing comfort to the outsider, it just keeps them on the outside. And instead of helping your cause, it’s hurting your church.
We have to remember that any step towards the church is still a step. It still takes effort. You’re going to have guests on Easter weekend who wrestled with the decision to come, who wrestled with their anxieties about crowds, who are taking a chance on your safety protocols and your welcoming spirit, but in the end, they honored you with their presence. So please, don’t insult them with your comments and give them one more reason not to show up the following weekend.
Rather than snarky one-liners, how about grace? How about an easy next step? How about a way to connect to other people, and most importantly, to the cross?
Jesus took those who were on the outside and he brought them in. Regardless of how long it had been, regardless of how far they had wandered, regardless of how far they had to go … the message of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is that new life is available to anyone who asks and the grace of Jesus meets us at the point of our deepest need.
And more than anything else people need in 2021, people need the hope of the empty tomb. They need that hope more than they need a job. More than they need a vaccination. More than they need a clean bill of health or a fixed marriage or a solution for their wayward child.
They need the hope of the resurrection.
Pastors: they’re coming. The Holy Spirit is drawing brand new honored guests to your services this weekend. How will you serve them?
Posted on March 26, 2021
Danny Franks is the Pastor of Guest Services at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the author of People Are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel. Read more from Danny at www.dfranks.com
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My college pastor told a story about one of his first Easter services as a young pastor. He had a lot of people who hadn’t been there the whole year, so he really lit into them. He said, “Many of you are like Easter lilies! You bloom once a year, and then no one ever sees you again!” (It was something along those lines, anyway). He said as he and his wife were going home, she asked him this question: “Did you build them up, or tear them down?”
I’m a pastor now, and I’ve never forgotten that lesson. We must be careful what we say. I think it was DeWitt Talmadge who said, “You cannot scold your church up, but you can very easily scold it down.”
What a great quote, Ken!