The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest event in history.
But Easter has an unseen downside for many small churches.
Right now, all around the world, churches are excitedly preparing for Easter Sunday. Lilies are being arranged, Passion Plays are being staged, Easter eggs being stuffed and hidden, extra services are added.
We may have drifted away from a lot of important things, but the Sunday that still matters most is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
But the Easter attendance spike is not universal. There are many small churches that prepare for Easter Sunday under an unseen burden.
In many small churches, Easter Sunday is one of the lowest-attended, most challenging days of the year.
I know because in the 30 years I’ve been pastoring, it’s only been in the last ten or so that our crowds get bigger on Easter Sunday. Before that, they got smaller.
Most people don’t know this because small church pastors don’t complain about it. They just deal with it.
Why is Easter attendance so low in many small churches? Do we not have enough faith, prayer, planning or some other essential quality?
No. No. A thousand times, no.
Here’s what happens.
Where the Easter Sunday Slide Comes From
In a big church, when some musicians leave town for Easter weekend, there are plenty to take their place – especially for the big stage of Easter Sunday.
In a small church, when one or two musicians leave, there’s no one left – if there were any to begin with. And there’s no one to step in from neighboring churches because they have their own Easter services.
This happens for ushers, greeters and nursery care, too. Some regular attenders will even take out-of-town guests to another church on Easter.
When Easter Sunday comes, the few first-time guests often experience the church’s lowest attended, least-prepared service of the year. Word gets around. They get even fewer guests next Easter.
Can the Easter Slide Be Fixed?
No one is to blame for this. The people who go out of town have good reasons to go. The small church pastors did their best against impossible odds. And the first-time guests have no reason to be aware of the issues.
That’s just the way it is. Especially in the very small church.
So what do we do about it? There are no easy answers or quick fixes. But I can tell you what I did.
I kept at it. Year after year. Easter after Easter.
I did the hard work of looking past the discouragements. I determined I was going to rejoice in the unparalleled joy of the resurrection, whether-or-not we had greeters, musicians or teachers. No, it wasn’t easy. And there were major steps backwards in some years. But if the resurrection means anything, it means rejoicing when all seems lost – because we know it isn’t.
If your church is dealing with the Easter Sunday blues, don’t ignore the challenges, but don’t let them define you.
Celebrate the resurrection. Give it your all. Worship. Serve. Love. Give.
Reinforce the reality that Easter is not about performance, but about celebration and worship. Even if you have to start by convincing yourself, first.
Plus, I wonder if some small churches can find a better way to celebrate Easter that plays to our strengths, rather than mourning our weaknesses.
Instead of thinking we need to do extras for Easter, maybe offer an “Unplugged Easter” for those who are uncomfortable with all the noise and drama. Not that noise and drama are wrong – they’re just not for everyone.
It’s About the Church, Not My Church
You’re not alone this Easter.
Churches around the world face the same challenges and frustrations. Many others, like me, remember what it was like.
We get it. And while that won’t add bodies to your empty seats on Sunday, sometimes knowing that someone else gets it is enough for now.
In the meantime, let’s do something this weekend that we do too little of. Let’s pray for other churches.
If your church is prepping for big crowds, remember the church near you that won’t see a spike this weekend. If your church is looking at a sparse weekend ahead, pray for the churches that will be dealing with huge crowds. I know. That’s hard. But what really matters is that people’s hearts and souls will be saved for eternity this Easter Sunday, no matter what church they go to.
Easter doesn’t exist to pack church buildings. We don’t do it because we need another holiday. We don’t even celebrate it simply to remember the world’s greatest historical event (although it is that).
We celebrate Easter to thank Jesus for the salvation his resurrection brings, and to help usher more souls into eternity.
It doesn’t matter if that happens in my church, your church or a megachurch. It just matters that it happens.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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