"Do your planning based on the importance of the celebration, expecting that people will return."
We’re starting a Strategic Planning process at the church where I work, and some of the data I’m collecting is on average Sunday attendance. Our Easter attendance has been higher than our Christmas Eve attendance, and this surprised me.
“Maybe it’s the warmer weather,” was my first thought, but I hope that is not the reason - or not the main reason! I hope it is because of what we are celebrating - the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life promised to us. After all, Easter IS the principal feast of the church year!
Many people are coming to your church for Easter. It’s important to put some time into planning your welcome and hospitality. Do your planning based on the importance of the celebration, and expecting that people will return. Don’t think of your Easter visitors as one-time visitors – treat them well and many will return.
My list of “7 Ways to Welcome Church Visitors on Christmas Eve” is also appropriate for Easter, and so those are not repeated here. Click on the link above and apply those 7 guidelines to your planning. Here is a list of specific hospitality practices for Easter. Adapt them to fit your church.
1. Include Children – Here are 3 Ideas
- Flowers: Many churches offer a “flowering of the cross” which is a wonderful way to include children in the liturgy and add beauty to the church. If you can’t do this, you could put empty vases in the church, including in the chancel area, where children could place flowers. Make a specific time for this in the liturgy (preferably near the beginning) and include it in the bulletin. And VERY important: arrange for several members of the church to bring extra flowers to give to children who are visiting or who forget their flowers. You don’t want anyone left out!
- An Easter egg hunt after church. Easter egg hunts are for Easter day not Palm Sunday or Holy Week. They can be indoors or outdoors, but if you have a nice area at the front of your church try to use it. It shows passers-by that you are alive and well and open for business!
- Provide some quiet toys at the back of the church that families can pick up on their way in. Books and coloring are popular and easy. Consider putting a picture in your bulletin that children can color, and give them a bag of crayons as they enter the church. You could invite them to pin their picture to a bulletin board after the service.
2. Pull out all the stops on your processions
Easter is a festive occasion, and church goers like festive to include banners, flags, choirs and music.
3. Pace your liturgy
Don’t rush it. For example, after a reading give people a few seconds to find the page in the hymnal.
4. Give direction
Tell people when to stand, sit and kneel. Don’t expect them to figure it out by watching the pastor or choir.
5. Feed them
Many churches have a special reception. It doesn’t have to be a 5 course meal, but it should be attractively displayed. If it is a reception or buffet, put tables in the center of the room or several tables around the room. Don’t put the tables up against the wall. You want people to have conversations and meet each other. If possible, include child sized tables so that children can reach their own food. Child sized chairs are also a good idea.
6. Coach your congregation in greeting others
One of my favorite ways to do this is the “no fault greeting.” Prior to Easter, at the end of the service (before you leave your seat) ask people to turn in a circle and introduce themselves to everyone near them. The “no fault” part of this, of course, is that they may already know some people - but no matter, learning to speak to others in church is important.
7. Preach to your audience
The sermon should be for the demographic present - many unchurched or infrequent attendees. Omit jargon and insider language. Be simple. Preach the Good News. It should be no more than 8-10 minutes.
8. Make announcements with care
Begin with a welcome, invite everyone to the reception (or Easter Egg hunt), and tell them how to be in touch with the church (visit your website, Facebook page, speak to you, for example).
If you must make announcements about upcoming events, be very brief and very positive. For example, don’t say “We haven’t received any canned food for the soup kitchen this month, please bring some next Sunday.” Instead say: “People in our community are so grateful when they have enough to eat. You can help them not have growling stomachs by donating food to our soup kitchen. Drop off canned items anytime during the week.”
9. Smile and enjoy the Good News and beauty of your church. It’s contagious!
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.
Photo credit: Flowers for Easter by George Brett via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.