To paraphrase Tennyson, “In the Spring a young pastor’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of—Easter guests in church!”
Needless to say, Easter is THE big event in the life of the church calendar. Nothing is bigger than celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And it’s not news to pastors that Easter is also the time of year that many people who don’t normally attend church decide they will visit church. Over the years I have conducted research of unchurched Oklahomans. The standard for most researchers for defining the “unchurched” has been those who have not attended a worship service in the last six months, outside of a holiday or special occasion like a wedding. The too often untold story is that you can be “unchurched” and attend church a couple of times per year. One of those times is often Easter.
This is especially true in Oklahoma where Okies are more likely to be in church on Easter than any other time of year. That makes the Easter season one of the biggest outreach times of the year. Thank God that the time of year that a lot of unchurched people are thinking of going to church is also the time when we can most naturally focus their attention on the Gospel!
It feels like a lot more is riding on this year’s Easter outreach. Last year about this time, COVID protocols had us hunkered down in our homes, wondering where our next roll of toilet paper was going to come from. Churches had to move their Easter celebrations to online services. It was not the same at all, but still good that we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord.
This year, hopes are high that people will come back to church for a high attendance day. I say “hopes are high for high attendance,” but because the Coronavirus is still around, it might be more accurate to say that our tempered expectations are that more people than usual will be in church this Easter. As we plan for these guests to visit our churches, let’s consider what it costs them to come.
It costs people to come to your church, and you can lower some of the costs
Anyone can visit a church for free, but consider this: the people who come to church do pay a price to come. Cost can be anything that presents a barrier to participation. If the price is needlessly too high, people won’t come—or at least they won’t come back.
The biggest cost this year might be for your guests to overcome the fear of contracting the Coronavirus. Your church’s social distancing, recommended mask wearing, available hand sanitizer and other COVID protocols help lower this perceived cost.
Other costs can be anything from what activity a person must give up to participate (sports, rest, yard work, etc.), to making time on Sunday morning for attending. We can’t account for lowering all these costs, but we can at least be aware that these are factors in the hearts and minds of our guests and show them how glad we are that they made the choice to visit by providing them with a warm welcome.
Cost may include overcoming whatever their prejudices about faith and church may be. Price can be what people feel they need to wear to come to the church or spend on bus fare or gas money. Some people can’t afford the transportation costs.
Some do not have the health leave home and need someone who can come by to visit them. There are people with physical handicaps such as mobility problems, hearing difficulty, blindness. Think about these costs. Are there ways your church can remove more of these barriers?
There are many kinds of costs that are not what Jesus meant when he said we should “count the cost” of discipleship. It is a little dated, but I have always found the debate about the “seeker-sensitive” church to be too simplistic when people say that being seeker-sensitive is pandering to people’s whims.
People have needs, and being aware of what their needs are is very helpful in reaching them with the Gospel and helping them find their way to faith in Christ. We do need seeker-sensitive churches, but perhaps better put, we need churches that are sensitive sinner-seekers!
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10)
In some cases, often unknown to you, unchurched people will have had to cross huge barriers to visit your church. We don’t often realize, or better said, recognize what happens to people that gets them to the point of visiting the church. For some, the idea to come to church was not a whim. The moment they cross the threshold of your church, they may have crossed a huge chasm of pain, anger, fear, prejudice, and sadness–even danger. Respect the moment in these people’s lives. Make sure your guests are not overlooked.
Counting the cost in ministry outreach
If your church can help people “lower the cost” that unchurched people have to pay to visit, without lowering the bar of spiritual commitment, you will be better able to reach them. I have not met any Oklahoma Baptists pastors who are willing to lower the bar on what the unchurched need to hear—they need the truth of the Gospel.
The lost are selfish and irresponsible about their spiritual lives. They hang too much of the responsibility for their spirituality on others. But, hey, they are lost! How do we expect them to behave?
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
God certainly lowered the cost for us by paying our sin debt. What a free offer we have been given in the gift of God! But notice, He didn’t lower the cost of discipleship. How can your church lower the price a little for your guests without pandering to their immature ways this year at Easter?