Sunday, March 31, 2013

It’s Easter and the church is full

easter-lily-with-crossIt’s great going to church on Easter Sunday and finding that the place is packed. Why should we ever complain about the church being too full? I’ve sat in almost empty churches before – not fun, quite disheartening. Yet some regular church attenders can be quite put out when they come on Easter Sunday and find the parking lot is full and “strangers” are sitting in their regular seats. Yes, these are those Christians who complain about the “Holly and Lily Christians” who only show up at Christmas and Easter.

Personally, I don’t understand why people would only come to church two or three times a year, but I think it’s great that they come for Easter Sunday. It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives meaning to that Sunday and to all our Sunday church services. When the priest / pastor declares, “Christ is Risen!,” on Easter Sunday, I like hearing that large crowd sound of everyone responding together, “He is Risen Indeed.” If you’re only going to come one or twice a year, you couldn’t pick a better Sunday than Easter Sunday. So keep coming back!

Rather than moaning that these people only show up twice a year, why don’t we do our best to celebrate Easter Sunday, pull out all the stops, sing the best songs, hear the clear exposition of the Scriptures, feel the warmth of true Christian fellowship, and participate in the most joyous Communion feast of the year. Why don’t we give people a reason to come back the following Sunday? What if the experience of Easter Sunday was so compelling that people would be eager to return next week? Think: crowds following Jesus. What kept them coming back?

britney spears at churchThe reality is that far few people attend church than who claim to follow Christ, and maybe the church is partly to blame. Philip Yancey wrote a fascinating book on this subject called Church: Why Bother? He talks about a period of his life in which he decided not to attend church, but to support it from the outside, “I am not alone… Some of them have stories similar to mine: they feel burned or even betrayed by a former church experience. Others simply ‘get nothing out of church.’” (p.20) We can dismiss these reasons, many do, or we can attempt to address them as valid concerns. I know I don’t like being bored at church. I know it’s painful when you feel betrayed by your pastor. And I know how good it is to be in a church that promotes healing in those hurt relationships and sees no benefit in being boring for the sake of tradition. Why should people bother coming to church? And when they do come why wouldn’t we celebrate it rather than complain? Britney Spears has made the headlines for all kinds of things as we all know, but I think it’s pretty cool that she hit the headlines today just for going to church on Easter. I can be happy about that.

So let me suggest a new way to respond to those “Holly and Lily Christians.” How about saying, “Happy Easter! Great to see you” (or Merry Christmas on that other Sunday). Why not be brave and go further? “It’s great to see you today. I don’t think I’ve seen you since Christmas. I don’t know if you’d have any ideas, but I’ve been working on this project to redesign how we do church on Sundays. Do you have any ideas of what would make our church services more interesting, more compelling and more relevant to people? Any thoughts?” Now, of course, church is not entertainment or just crowd pleasing, so there may be answers that won’t be helpful, but I suspect some of the answers would be very interesting. We must ask ourselves how we’ve taken such a relevant message of great news and made it seem irrelevant to so many people today.

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