By: Justin Anderson
We are only weeks away from Easter. Are you ready? Hopefully you have already chosen a sermon title and a theme for the day. You have likely already planned your outreach strategy and any events that you will host on Sunday morning. If not, get started! It’s not too late but it’s getting close.
Here are three things to be thinking about as you approach this great day.
This will be my twenty-second Easter in pastoral ministry and yet, it never gets old. Easter is the greatest day of the church calendar, the day that changed the universe. With that in mind, it’s pretty hard to overdo it on such a big day. Bust out your best suit, pick all of your favorite resurrection songs, work on your sermon for a few extra hours, plan some events that people will remember.
Is it possible to miss the point on Easter because you are focused on the lights and lasers instead of the empty tomb? For sure. But is it possible to celebrate too much or to be too excited or to work too hard on this big day? I don’t think so.
I’ve heard pastors argue that Easter should just be another day on the calendar and that drawing undo attention to it distorts how we feel about the other 51 Sundays of the year.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Easter is totally unlike every other Sunday. Easter is the only Sunday that Jesus was raised from the dead. God died on a Friday and rose to life later that weekend. And it wasn’t just a divine illusion or a bit of pyrotechnics. That resurrection made our resurrection possible. For the first time in human history, death was overcome. The Universe won’t die because of this day.
If you won’t go over the top to celebrate that, I don’t know what you will celebrate.
Pastors are expert overthinkers. I’ve heard guys go back and forth about who Easter is for, Christians or nonChristians. Is Easter a day for outreach and evangelism? Or is it a day for Christians to celebrate their freedom and salvation? This isn’t just a theoretical discussion either. It has practical implications for how you will program your weekend. You have finite resources and have to allocate them according to your priorities.
So do you spend your money on outreach? Do you send out flyers, get a dozen bouncy houses, a thousand donuts, and give away a Tesla just to get as many nonChristians as possible through the door?
Or do you save your outreach money and plan to spend your time crafting a sermon that will bring comfort and conviction to your congregation? Do you ask your band to sing all familiar songs that your congregation loves and can sing with their eyes closed? Do you host a brunch afterwards for your members to celebrate the resurrection together?
Here is my answer: Stop overthinking Easter, it’s for everybody. Do some things that are aimed directly at nonChristians who desperately need to hear the powerful message of the Resurrection. And do some other things that will specifically bless your people and make them feel like a special part of the day. You can do both, and you should.
Can you do everything for everyone? Obviously not, but you shouldn’t ignore one group in order to only serve the other. Easter is for everybody.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to your Sunday gatherings. The problem is that they come every week with nary a break. Even if you get a Sunday off from preaching, the gathering still happens. It’s hard to think about making things better when you just have to get it done. Usually your team is working full time just to get done what you always get done. Adding more things or making things better seems like an almost cruel expectation.
But, since you have already decided to go big for Easter this year, it’s the perfect opportunity to level up the rest of your Sundays. You won’t be able to do an Easter-level service every Sunday, but you could pick one or two things to keep doing and make your services better as a result.
For instance, many years ago we did a semi-dramatic responsive reading on Easter. We had people who were really strong dramatic readers weave the resurrection story into the liturgy. It made us realize that we had been settling for some pretty lame scripture reading before that, and so we decided to level up our scripture reading. We recruited more people with acting or public speaking backgrounds to be scripture readers, trained them to read as if they were telling a story, and encouraged them to really go for it. The result was that our scripture reading became far more dynamic than it had before.
Another example was a girl we recruited to play cello in a larger Easter band that we put together one year. She was shy and had never thought we’d put a cello in a worship band. But when we specifically asked for stringed instruments one year, she volunteered. A few months later we figured out she could sing and before long, she became one of our worship leaders, and she led from the cello!
There is a ton of opportunity to leverage the extra time you give to Easter and make the rest of your Sundays better as a result.
OK, one more thing. It’s hard to think of everything that you could do on a day like this so let me give you some categories of things that I think are important and helpful for Easter weekend. Get ready for bullet points!
- Think of Good Friday and Easter together thematically. A few years ago our theme for the weekend was “To Death for Life.” This helped us tie Friday and Sunday together. The purpose of Friday was the result of Sunday. Tying these two services together can create a greater sense of the theme.
- Be more creative. Maybe you’re not a super creative person. That’s OK, I’m not either. You don’t have to be more creative than you are, but you should try to be more creative than you have been. Give the brainstorming stage an extra hour, spend an extra 30 minutes on that main illustration or symbol. Sharpen it, tighten it up, expand the idea. Just work a little harder to be creative, you won’t regret it.
- Choose a memorable title. Our Easter sermon title this year is “Making Sense of the Nonsense.” It’s easy to remember, it speaks to real life, and it’s something that everybody would love to be able to do.
Make a marketing plan. Some of you have started sneezing because you are allergic to the idea of marketing. Take some Benadryl and get over it. Easter is a great day to invite people to church. Studies show that nonChristians would come to your church on Easter if you invited them. So, how will you invite them?
- Have some fun. Get a bounce house, fill some easter eggs, buy all the pink donuts. Easter is a really important day but that doesn’t mean it has to be so serious that you can’t have some fun. We are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, some face paint wouldn’t kill you.
- Pick singable songs. This doesn’t mean you have to pick simple songs with watered down lyrics. You should sing songs that are explicitly faith-filled and resurrection centered. But they should also be singable for new people and nonChristians. Great lyrics and simple, predictable melodies are the key.
- Think about the faces on stage. Choose people to lead, speak, and play that represent the fullness of your community. I’m not asking for perfectly equal representation but it is to your advantage if the visitors in the seats can see someone on stage that they identify with. It communicates that there is a place for them if they stick around.
- Be choosy with your announcements. This is not the Sunday to roll out all the ministries of the church. Keep it tight, keep it relevant, and make the call to action crazy clear.
- Pick your next series wisely. OK, you managed to get these people to your church, how will you keep them? Not by just going back to your ongoing, 37-part series through Judges. Take 4-6 weeks and speak to something that piques their interest and communicates to them that you see them, that you know their lives and what they need. Serve them by speaking to them.
- Get those digits. Last but not least, make a plan to gather contact information from these folks. If people come and go without telling you who they are, you will have no way of following up with them. You will have no way to invite them back and ultimately, no way to care for and disciple them. Get them digits.
- Work those digits. OK, this is actually the last thing. If you get the digits, have a plan for what you are going to do with them. Businesses call this a “nurture campaign.” How will you nurture these folks from first time visitor to member? It should probably be a combination of emails, phone calls, invitations and offers of value.
That’s a lot, and it may seem overwhelming, but it’s Easter! The work is worth it in the end. We get to celebrate the resurrection of the Son of God, let’s throw the kind of party that makes people think we actually believe what we’re preaching!