As we journey through Lent toward Easter, I want to be mindful of the dangers that surround this season and threaten the soul of a community and the soul of a pastor.
What danger? The temptation to bait and switch.
Every year I need to remind myself that Easter is not a marketing opportunity. The resurrection of the Son of God is not an opportunity to market our programs or build "my" church, even under the guise of concern for lost.
And as I feel the pressure to create a winning, life-changing sermon for those who may only come this one time a year, I especially have to remember: It's not about me. (Please wait a minute while I repeat that to myself a few times.) Why? Because heaven forbid we should ever do community in such a way that communicates that our main avenue for people coming to Christ is hearing the Gospel preached from the mouth of one person, rather than hearing it 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 because we begin to see them as something different from what they really are for the life of a community. This is where a more robust engagement with the Christian calendar really helps. It focuses our communal life on the events of the life of Christ all year around, and keeps us from seeing "two big outreach event Sundays!" every year in Christmas and Easter.
Yes, a lot of people come to a Sunday service once or twice a year, and they are more likely to come on Easter than just about any other time. 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, humongously 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 (and sometimes not so subtly) communicate to our people is that their job is to invite people who are not in our churches to come on Easter Sunday morning so that the pastor and the drama team and the worship guy and (possibly) 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" and "big" Sundays communicate, I think. Regardless of what we teach about reaching out to others, what we say through our Sunday Show actions communicates that it's not the job of the average person to introduce people to Jesus. Leave it to the pros with the degrees and the training and the gifts.
In other words, "You get ?em to church, we'll get ?em to Jesus!" How empowering is that for people?
I would much prefer we both explicitly and implicitly communicate a model that includes befriending people; enfolding them into the rhythms of our lives; sharing the highs and lows (and how our faith informs those) with them; and integrating them into home groups, dinner times, and the big and small events of our lives. How natural would it be after all that love and enfolding that they become a part of our community, even before they believe? And when they believe, they believe because they've seen and tested the reality of a life of faith, as opposed to simply watching a special Sunday morning service where the band rocks extra hard and the pastor has a few more funny stories than normal.