Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:
“I have seen the Lord!” John 20.18
This is Easter weekend, and that means a lot of people are coming to Church, especially on Sunday. Besides the Easter Vigil, we have four Easter morning services in six venues. We don’t do Sunday afternoon services on Easter because most people want to come in the morning.
There will be a crowd and the crowd will be filled with unchurched people, people Who haven’t been in church for a while, people who don’t like church (they’re just going to brunch with their family and church is a stop along the way). Think about what they will encounter at many churches…
1. An incoherent parking situation in which they have trouble parking, or fail to even find a parking space. Since they don’t even want to be there to begin with, this experience will color the entire experience, even if what’s coming up is great (which it won’t be).
2. A less than enthusiastic welcome from “regulars.” The “regulars have got their “we know you don’t belong here” or the “you’re not fooling anyone” or their “what do you think you’re doing here” looks all ready. And if one of these interlopers happened to get into “their” seat in “their” pew then they’ll really get a look. Essentially its a “go to hell” look.
3. But that probably won’t happen because the “regulars” know better than the visitors when they have to get to church to get a seat. The church will already be filled by the time the unchurched get there so they’ll just have to stand, in doorways and aisles and that will make them feel even more ackward. And, they won’t be able to hear or see from where they’re standing…which isn’t all bad because….
4. There will be lots of elements in the service that sort of tell the unchurched person, in a passive aggressive kind of way, that they don’t belong because they don’t know the responses, they don’t know the communion procedures, the announcements don’t have anything to do with them, they’re for people who “belong.”
5. BUT, at some point in the service, besides all the passive aggressive insults, the unchurched will probably be directly, clearly, unmistakably insulted, probably from the pulpit. This is the Pastor who always ends his Easter sermon with “I might as well say Merry Christmas since I won’t be seeing most of you again until December.” Nice touch, I bet his regulars love it. They can all laugh about it next Sunday when the place is empty again.
How about, if instead of this bi-annual reminder to the unchurched of why it is they don’t go to church we try it another way:
1. Parishoners and regulars park off campus, leaving plenty of spaces for the newcomers.
2. Parishoners and regulars step forward and volunteer to serve on Easter Sunday, especially in some form of hospitality ministry in the Lobby or near the entrance.
3. Parishoners and regulars go to less popular service times, or wait for all the visitors to be seated before taking a seat themselves.
4. The worship service is arranged with the unchurched visitor in mind, carefully inviting everyone to participate in ways they’ll find attractive and accessible.
5. The sermon or homily is written for visitors.
That would be a different kind of Easter celebration, wouldn’t it?
Easter is the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. And the very first and earliest form of celebration (John 20.18) was telling others. Lets make our Church environments and our attitudes and our hospitality all about telling others he is risen.