Easter Sunday. Some have referred to it as the “Super Bowl of the church world.” Mass amounts of people will fill the pews that morning, many of whom haven’t been since the Easter (or Christmas) before. With the guarantee of big crowds and so many new faces, church leaders often feel a sense of pressure to “capitalize” on this once-a-year opportunity and do everything they can to compel the rare attendees to come back the following week.
To be sure, church leaders are wise to be aware that—simply in terms of who will be in attendance that day—Easter is not like “every other Sunday.” As a result, leaders should prayerfully consider how they can simultaneously glorify God and best contextually serve those in attendance. If the Children’s Pastor has the kids hunt for some eggs in the backyard and they pass out a Reese’s bunny or two, Jesus can still be glorified. The preacher isn’t compromising the gospel if he uses compelling, attention-getting illustrations (after all, the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus Himself used illustrations in their teaching and preaching).
Yet, at the same time, with Easter Sunday comes a great danger for many church leaders; it’s the temptation to entertain. It’s the pressure to make the Easter service shiny and attractive so that it doesn’t feel all that different from the culture. Then, we think, perhaps some of the new faces will come back the following week.
In light of this burden that so many church leaders feel on Easter, consider the following four truths as words of encouragement:
1. The gospel is enough.
As countless new faces fill our pews on Easter Sunday, many of whom do not know Christ, there is one thing that will save them. It is not the perfect worship set. It is not cute, memorable stories. It is not a powerful video. It is not the nicest and most attractive greeter team. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ alone that will save them. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote,
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . . (Romans 1:16)
And yet while it is the gospel alone that saves, it’s important that we get the gospel right. The gospel message is not simply, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Consider the model we see in the book of Acts; Peter had his own “Easter Sunday” of sorts at Pentecost. He had a captive audience of thousands. He had seekers. However, he didn’t use that opportunity to tickle their ears; instead, he confronted them with their sin and the cross of Christ (Acts 2:14-36).
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins . . . (Acts 2:38).
If we seek to “pretty up” the gospel on Easter to make it more accessible, bypassing sin and judgment, then we have created an entirely different gospel.
2. The cross of Jesus Christ doesn’t need to be dressed up.
Easter Sunday always gives a great excuse to buy a new dress from Macy’s and to dapper up the kids in the trendiest matching outfits from Janie and Jack. That’s fine, but the cross doesn’t need sprucing up. If the cross isn’t bloody, then it’s not the cross of Christ. If we assure sinners that God loves them apart from telling them it was their sin that nailed Christ to the cross, then we mislead them at best. The love and grace of God can’t be truly appreciated unless they are seen against the backdrop of our sin and the wrath of God. The empty tomb loses its victorious ring if it wasn’t preceded by a cross made necessary by our sin. When we try to make the gospel pretty, we rob it of its power. Jesus doesn’t need our help in order to increase the gospel’s potential to save. If we seek to remove the offense of the gospel, then we have lost the gospel itself.
3. If people want to be entertained, they won’t come to our Easter service—they’ll go to the movies.
Sometimes churches feel the pressure to entertain in hopes that this will make the seeker more likely to enjoy their experience and come back. But this is a flaw in the philosophy of the “seeker-driven” Easter experience. If seekers are looking for entertainment, most of them are aware enough to know that there are places far better than the church to find it. Even with our very best efforts, the church is almost always going to fall short of keeping up with Hollywood, the sports world, and the rest of the culture’s offerings of high-quality entertainment.
As a result, when seekers come to church on Easter and they see us very evidently trying to keep up with the culture, it may not only annoy and confuse them, but it actually lets them down. They don’t come to our church on Easter because they are looking for a good show; they got that the night before on Netflix. They come to our church on Easter because they are looking for something different. They are looking for something that can truly satisfy. They have, in many cases, had everything the world has to offer, and yet they’re still empty.
This is why when they come to our church on Easter they should find something distinctly different from everything they’ve experienced in the culture. They should encounter something uniquely holy. They should feel a defined difference in who they are and who “these Christians” seem to be. They are missing something. There is a hole in their life. We don’t serve them well when we fail to help them discern the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. If they can be entirely comfortable in our gatherings and see no difference from the ballgame the night before, then we’ve turned the light out in our church and we’ve done them more harm than good. To be outside of Christ is a dangerous place to be, and we only love people well if we help them see that.
4. What we get them with is what we’ll keep them with.
If we neuter the message just a bit on Easter, then the seeker will expect nothing different the following week. If we are willing to avoid the reality of their sin and desperate need for Christ on Easter, then we must be prepared to do so from that point forward. The English evangelist Leonard Ravenhill wrote, “Of course you can get a huge crowd at your church if you’re having chicken soup there. But once you drop the chicken, you’ll drop the crowd.”
So this Easter, just let the gospel be the gospel. Let the church be the church. Let her be different from the culture. Let her stand out. Let her be who she is. Let her be holy. Don’t dress her up. She is the bride of Christ, and He doesn’t want her to look like a world that is dressed in shiny rags.
Peter did the same thing following the first physical healing in Acts, which drew an enormous crowd of non-believers. His message was “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
I make a distinction between the seeker-driven church and a seeker-friendly church. The former adjusts its entire philosophy and message to reach “seekers” and often fails to provide the meat and substance that the true people of God need. In doing so, they fail to recognize that the “church” itself is the people of God, not seekers. Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Yet the seeker-friendly church simply recognizes that we should serve people with excellence and remove any unnecessary stumbling blocks when they attend our gatherings. Our facilities should be clean. If we have coffee, it should be done well. The kids’ ministry area should be safe and secure. We don’t compromise the gospel by seeking to safely and comfortably accommodate our guests; we compromise the gospel when we are willing to tweak the message and content of the service itself in order to suit the spiritual comfort-level of those in attendance.