As Easter Sunday (or Resurrection Sunday) approaches, church leaders feel the pressure to make the services memorable. The potential of connecting with guests, the energy of fuller crowds, and the anticipation for what is celebrated makes it a very special Sunday.
As a pastor who has served through many Easter Sundays, I have learned a lot over the years. I have been an associate pastor, worship pastor, and preaching pastor. There have been a lot of successes and flops that I have seen and experienced.
I wanted to provide you a quick list of common mistakes when planning or leading Easter services.
- Starting with a song that even your regulars don’t know. I’m all for something new, but typically, you have a lot of non-regulars in the room who probably won’t sing anyway, so you don’t want to set the whole congregation up to fail. Start with something that a large percentage knows and can get behind. Lead it a few weeks leading up to that day if it is newer. The goal is to get people singing not get disengaged as they listen to a few singing on the platform.
- Criticizing infrequent worshipers. I have shuddered at the stories I know about this one. Many pastors refer to those church members or church guests that only come a few times a year, typically Christmas and Easter, as “Chreasters” or “CEOs” (Christmas and Easter only). I don’t know how helpful it is off the platform, but I can tell you it is completely unhelpful on the platform. I sincerely doubt criticizing anyone for their lack of church attendance drew them to come back again. If you hold them to be spiritually immature, don’t speak like an angry or haughty juvenile yourself.
- Showing neglect to the regulars. Don’t write this one off yet. Sometimes we put so much emphasis on that one Sunday due to new folks, it can almost cause the regulars to resent it. “But don’t we need to be reaching out to the lost?” You are correct, and the best way to do that is by pouring into your members every week that they are reaching out to the lost daily – not just depending upon a staff to do it with dramas, cantatas, pastels, smoke, and lights. Jesus’ command to Peter after the resurrection was to feed his sheep (not the goats). If you feed the sheep, they will be your best outreach. Ultimately, worship isn’t about the regulars or the guests anyway, it is about Jesus and inviting people to marvel at him.
- Changing the quality drastically compared to other Sundays. Let’s just say you hire a sound company, decorate the stage, initiate an intentionality that the local theater would be inspired by on that one Sunday. Let’s just say that you intrigue someone so much by the theatrics of it all that they come back because of the production (I’m not saying that’s a good thing by the way), and then they come back the next week, and it feels like a completely different place. What it takes to reach them is what it takes to keep them. Be careful.
- Providing a sunrise service only. I think a sunrise service is a beautiful thing to get people together to remember the time of day that Jesus rose. I do not think it is wise to make that the only time your church gathers that day. The people on the fringes are doubtful to engage, and the people involved are going to struggle as well.
- Highlighting plastic eggs more than the empty tomb. If you notice how commercialism has branded Easter, you realize that there is an all-out attack to diminish Jesus and to highlight randomness. You can tell me how eggs, bunnies, and hats represent the holiday all you want, but I am telling you that realistically they are a distraction. If the culture is pushing pastels and Peeps, you need to offer more than that. I know you want to engage the kids when they come to church, but if you think egg hunts are more engaging than the empty tomb, we have a communication problem.
- Attempting to do too much. Your service should be the typical length of time it is every other week. You do not need to do too much by cramming so many elements (testimonies, baptisms, cantatas, specials, videos, children’s choir, etc.) into the service. Prioritize what would be best for worship. Your job is to honor Jesus and not placate every church member’s special request.
- Making an Easter fashion show. Even people who don’t like to dress up will dress up on Easter Sunday. I guess it is for the pageantry of it all and the desire to get some quality family photos. I get it, but don’t change the dress code too much for your leadership on that day. Once again, it gives your guests a sign that this example is your typical dress code (and should be adhered to on other Sundays) and gives your members a sign that this day is more important than any other day (more on that undercurrent theme at the end).
- Changing the typical leaders. If you utilize preachers, singers, leaders, or musicians that aren’t typically there, you are telling those that on special days, you need extra help. You need to put in your regulars into the lineup, and they need to deliver quality, engaging content as they should every single week because Jesus is alive and he stays alive every single Sunday of the year. He doesn’t go back into the tomb for 51 Sundays after your Easter presentation. You don’t need professionals to “sell” that. You need people who live it.
- Making the sermon too standard or too weird. The pressure for the preacher on Easter Sunday is unique. People want you to preach the resurrection passage in a unique and fresh way each year. If certain people only come once a year and hear you say the same thing, it confirms their suspicion that they don’t need to come anymore because there’s nothing new to unpack. You’ve been saying the same thing every time they hear you! You can preach a sermon on the power of the resurrection from another passage. Or you can preach a biblical sermon that highlights the significance but not boxed in either. I’d also recommend that the preacher not do something way out of the ordinary for him. The pressure to perform can cause some unique methods that may not translate well. Preach the Word in the power of the Spirit, and trust that he can do his job.
With this list and many more that you could probably provide, you might have noticed an undercurrent theme – while the Passion week in Jesus’ life is the most world-changing few days in history, it should have left a mark on the believers to celebrate it more than once a year.
When the early church began to meet after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, they started gathering on Sunday because that’s the day when Jesus defeated death.
They didn’t wait to gather one year later on that day. They gathered weekly.
Well, I celebrate “Easter” every single Sunday that I gather with my church. I celebrate his resurrection simply by my attendance on any given Sunday. The changing Sunday every year that we celebrate as a holiday given to us by lunar-watching holiday officials gives a great opportunity to point others to Jesus among a parade of pastels, but it’s not the only time I think about his resurrection just as Christmas isn’t the only time I think about his birth.
Every Sunday is a reminder that Jesus is alive.
Every single day is an opportunity for me to live with boldness based on the power of the resurrection.
Once a year, on Resurrection Sunday (or Easter if you will), others might take notice of what compels me every day, and I hope I can invite them into something greater than what this world has to offer.
Church leaders, let’s take the opportunity and not waste it.