Our Easter gathering was good... Nothing really different or special in the gathering itself (other than that we did announcements at the end), just a good time of shaking off the sorrow of Good Friday and embracing the joy of the resurrection. We ended up having more people than we've ever had at a gathering, which was very cool, though it always surprises me when it happens (okay- it's a bit less surprising on Easter...)
But this weekend got me thinking... There are some dangers for the soul of a community surrounding Easter time.
And the soul of a pastor, I think.
I want us to be careful of how we think, talk and act around times like this last weekend.
Remember, Little Pastor- Easter is not a marketing opportunity. The resurrection of the Son of God is not an opportunity to pimp our programs or build our flock, even under the guise of "concern for lost". And it's not about me. (Please wait a minute while I repeat that a few times to myself... ) Heaven forbid we should ever do community in such a way that our main avenue for people coming to Christ is hearing the Gospel preached from the mouth of one person, rather than hearing the Gospel preached from the mouths (and lives) of the whole community. If, in your community, more people are becoming Christians on Sunday than during the rest of the week, I think you may have a problem.
Times like Easter and Christmas are dangerous for us in that we begin to see them as something different than what they really are for the life of a community. This is where the Christian calendar really helps, I think- focusing our communal life on the events of the life of Christ all year around, rather than seeing "two big outreach event Sundays!" every year in Christmas and Easter.
Yeah, a lot of people come to a Sunday service once or twice and year, and they are more likely to come on Easter than just about any other time than Christmas. And yes, the Holy Spirit is amazing, drawing people to Himself even through our goofy Easter pageants and songs (or, our smoke machines and laser shows, if that's your thing...).
The danger in giving in to the impulse to do something radically different and humongous big and special at these times is what we communicate both to our community and those we are inviting to become a part of our community. What we subtly communicate (and sometimes not so subtly) to our people is that their job is to invite people who are not in our churches to come on Sunday morning so that the Pastor and the drama team and the worship guy and the Holy Spirit can take a whack at them.
I know that's overstating, but believe me... I've been there. And that's what "event evangelism" communicates, I think. Further, it often (unintentionally) communicates that it's not the job of the average person to be introducing people to Jesus. Leave it to the pros with the degrees and the training and the gifts.
"You get 'em to church... we'll get 'em to Jesus!"
How disempowering is that for people?
I would much rather we both explicitly and implicitly communicate a model that looks more like befriending people, enfolding them into the rhythms of our lives, sharing the highs/lows and how our faith informs those with them, integrating them into home groups and movie nights and the big events of our lives... and how natural would it be after all that love and enfolding that they become a part of our community, even before they believe? And then... that they believe, having seen it lived and tested and the reality of a life of faith, as opposed to simply a special sunday morning where the band rocks extra hard and the pastor has a few more funny stories than normal?
Easter is dangerous for those of us who are trying to avoid an attractional model of church because the attractional model reaches its zenith... or maybe its nadir... every year at Easter as thousands of churches try to do "something special" in the hopes that their people will invite others to come and be bait-n-switched into a relationship with Jesus... and we, trying hard to do something a bit more simple and organic, are tempted to abandon the rhythms of our community in a misguided effort to "keep up."
Yeah... I said "bait 'n' switch" because that's what it is. More than simply communicate to our people that it's not their job, we communicate something to those we would love to see become part of our community... And it's not a positive message. In fact, if we're not careful, we could end up really disappointing some people. How?
By "offering" them less on subsequent visits. Less pizzazz... less oomph. I'd be kind of pissed off if the first week I went was Cirque Du Soleil and the next week was Phil and Ted's Bargain Rate Circus, you know?
I was super impressed to see another church planter dial it down a bit this year after hearing the disappointment of some people who came to Easter services last year and when coming back the next week were faced with a completely different (and less exciting) offering.
Look, I'm not saying we shouldn't take advantage of increased visitor attendance and preach the Gospel and hope that God does something amazing in people's lives...
I'm just saying that if that's your strategy- wait for someone to wander within range of your Gospel cannons and then fire on them in hopes of scoring a hit, or worse yet, doing some cool things in the hopes that they might be lured within range, then I think there a better way. Less defined, less able to be controlled by the pastors, less able to brag about at pastor's conferences or have a book written about it... but better. People loving people into your community and into relationship with Jesus.
It doesn't take mailers, banners, and Cirque Du Soleil every week. Just a bunch of loving, welcoming Christ followers. People who genuinely care. People who are seeking relationships with other people, and sharing life with them. A competent all-community gathering where things work well so as not to be a distraction from what God wants to do that morning, sure... but less of a focus on Sunday mornings as the center of community and more of a focus on the community and its revolving around Jesus Himself.
I remain convinced that what we win people with, we win them to.
update: Andrew Seely has some good and similar thoughts here