CEO (Christmas/Easter Only) Christians

This Easter will likely be the highest attended day this year for churches across America. Such has been the norm for a few decades. Indeed many churches will go all out to attract people to attend their churches on Easter Sunday. It is understandable that church leaders put much effort to bring people to church on a day where they are most receptive to coming.

A church in Toledo, Ohio, recently announced that they would be giving away a house to a family. The requirement for being considered for the big giveaway is to attend one of the worship services on Easter weekend. I have to say, in all of my church growth and church health experiences, this giveaway exceeds anything I’ve seen.

The Motive

Though few churches will make such elaborate and expensive moves as giving away a house, many churches will invest much time and money to get people to attend their churches on Easter weekend. The motive stated is typically noble: get them in a worship service to hear the gospel.

There is also the expectation that many of the people attending on Easter are among those who typically attend twice a year, Christmas and Easter. Since they attend so infrequently, it is presumed that many, if not most, of the CEO Christians are not actually Christians at all. They thus present good opportunities to present the gospel.

The Reality

But, according to our research in earlier years, that may not be the case. We actually found that most who attend on Easter are fairly regular attendees. They just happened all to come together on the same day. On Easter, those who attend one, two, or three Sundays a month join those who attend nearly every Sunday. In reality then, the CEO Christian is likely more myth than reality.

In fact, if there is a given day where more unchurched non-Christians are likely to attend church, it would be on Christmas eve. Some churches do make special efforts to reach people with the gospel on that day; still most churches have no strategic plans to do so.

The Need

The obvious need is for a higher commitment among the members of our congregations. In most of our churches, we accept as normative that members attend infrequently. We usually don’t think twice about that member whose commitment is limited to attending only twice a month.

Most of the congregations in America have become low expectation churches. They expect little of their members, so they get little commitment. Even matters as basic as worship attendance become optional in the minds of many members. The church has dumbed down what it means to be a part of the local expression of the body of Christ.

So, in reality, we really don’t have CEO Christians. Easter is primarily a reunion of the COO (Comes Only Occasionally) Christians. It is the one day that most of the low commitment members believe they should attend. But the need is for churches to start expecting more of their members. The need is for membership to really have meaning and purpose.

The need is for congregations across America to take seriously what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Posted on April 20, 2011

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thankfully, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Many believers have given up on church because it is no longer meeting the needs of people.
    If Jesus were here today, he’d do some “temple cleansing” in most churches. Instead of spending millions on fancy buildings, bigger sound systems, and multi-media “shows,” the church should get back to the basics and meet the needs of real people. Once it does, people will come back in droves.
    I might participate in church more if it stopped charging admission. Think about it: when a church makes people buy a book to participate in a Biblestudy, it is essentially charging admission. That creates a financial barrier that prevents some people from getting their spiritual needs met. The mission of the church is to equip the saints, so the church should pay for the resources necessary to do that (instead of spending money on a newer sound system and colored stage lighting).
    And, personally, Easter is my least favorite day to attend church because it is nothing more than a materialistic fashion show. People at church do very little to make outsiders feel comfortable and accepted. How about recommending that everyone wear jeans on Easter so that everyone feels comfortable to “come as you are”? We don’t have to put on our best self to come to Jesus. That’s the wrong message to send to people. (I’m thinking about wearing my pajamas to church for Easter, just to make a point.)
    Instead of judging Christians for not attending church more regularly, maybe the church should humble itself enough to ask them why they don’t attend more–and then have the courage to make changes. Just a thought.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Alan –
    You encourage me to say that I’m the man at anything! : )

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Christiane –
    Interesting perspective. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Good word Shawn!

  • I remember when the CEO was me and I had no problem with it at that time.. But things changed and I found Jesus and fell in love with him again on an Easter Sunday nearly 12 yrs ago. And it started a journey that only God could have put together. Seminary and serving in churches as the Youth Pastor my last one being Azalea (the Docs old Church lol) now as an Itinerant Christian Speaker/Evangelist I spend alot of time finding the CEO’s and try to get them to see the Jesus that I know and Love!! Dicipleship is the key that got me and I have used that approach since.
    Awesome article Doc!!

  • Awesome! So well said. We must get a grip in the reality church growth vs. disciple making. You are the man Thom.

  • Christiane says on

    Was there a time when the Church was not heavily into politics, and therefore ‘identified’ by its commitment to political goals? I think there was, when I was young.
    Now, we can’t tell some Churches from the local Party Headquarters . . . with ‘voting guides’ passed out to the congregations and sermons directing people to support certain candidates only.
    Could this be one cause of people ‘walking away’, except for a few times of the year to attend ‘for old times sake’?
    I shouldn’t be surprised if this was not a part of the problem. Just some thoughts.

  • For church members to understand what is required of them, the pastor needs to preach more decisively on Scripture. Tickling the ears only goes so far and milk can grow sour. Members must be challenged by what God expects from them.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Jeff –
    I love the phrase “quasi-commitment culture of our congregations.” I’ll use that in the future!

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Kevin –
    I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Thanks for the post. I can relate as I grew up in a home that some years we really were CEO Christians and other years we were COO Christians. I grew up thinking that going was a chore and not an opportunity. Now I am a seminary student and ordained pastor. Go figure!
    The quasi-commitment culture of our congregations must be fueled by the fear that commitment will scare people away. But from what I see in the history of the Church, commitment, even to death, brought growth and the right kind. Are we approaching this from such a “marketing” mentality that we are more about making “customers” than disciples? (Truly asking)
    BTW, Just got your book Millenials and looking forward to digging in!

  • Great insights! I had a conversation recently with someone who has noticed the spike in Easter attendance has been slowly declining over the past few years. His thought was that Easter is becoming less and less of a Christian Holiday culturally. That’s probably true, but I think more of what’s at hand is that we in churches are lowering and lowering what we expect of people.

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