Professor of Sociology of Religion, Hartford Seminary
Suggestions for Resurrecting Your Church at Easter
In our research for the book The Other 80 Percent we highlighted some staggering figures - figures that are well-known but seldom discussed and almost never addressed by congregational leaders. The average church has attendance that is 30-40% of its membership, and half of these attenders are marginal participants at best. That means that most churches operate with at most 20 percent of their congregation being engaged actively in the church community, its missions or activities. It is no wonder so many churches struggle to fill committee slots or resort to begging to reach yearly budgets.
Lent and Easter (as well as Advent and Christmas) generate the greatest "nominal member" traffic... folks that almost never attend throughout the year, follow their sense of obligation to reconnect with the church community during these holy seasons. This isn't the occasion to berate them for their lack of weekly engagement; rather it is a perfect opportunity to remind errant members about the great activities, opportunities for ministry, and small groups at the church.
Church leaders acknowledge, celebrate, and at time bemoan the countless quasi-visitors during Lent and especially at Easter but tend not to consider this season as the perfect time to woo them back into more active involvement. The holy weeks around Easter are the perfect opportunity, not just to commemorate Jesus' sacrificial act and celebrate his resurrection, but also to spread the message that membership entitles them to congregational participation 52 weeks a year not just during these high holy days.
A church that wants to generate greater participation should intentionally use the draw of the season to acknowledge and celebrate the gifts that core volunteers give to Christ's mission throughout the year. A congregation can also subtly use this occasion to remind marginal members what the active life of the congregation has to offer. Now is the time, not just to collect for Habitat or Bread for the World, but also to display and acknowledge the many service and ministry groups and opportunities available throughout the life of the church. Additionally, passion plays and skits by the children and youth draw in their extended family members, so what better time to let them know of the educational and spiritual enrichment opportunities for all ages throughout the year.
Other possible ways to promote the rich life of the church and perhaps entice disconnected members to consider reengaging include:
A hallway of tables selling microbusiness products to fund a mission trip with display of last mission trip photos
A "Year in Review" timeline on the wall about all the enjoyable events at the church.
A display global map of all the missions and missionaries being supported and a local map of all the places money and members are engaged.
Literature about all the opportunities for Education/ for fellowship/ for ministry at the church.
Display of the small groups and home fellowship groups with maps and times to their gatherings.
Announcements of the next few sermon series... for the coming months
The schedule of youth, young adult and adult religious educational classes coming this spring.
Add an insert to the bulletin to ask for email addresses so they can receive the latest e-newsletter.
Set up a computer kiosk with the year's highlights in photos or that has the recently-updated church website, Facebook or blog posts displayed.
Make sure greeters don't welcome errant members with the not-so-subtle greeting, "We haven't seen you in so long... where have you been?" Even the prodigal son was welcomed with a feast and gifts from his father.
Any of these efforts will let the occasional member who reconnects with the church around Lent and Easter know the great activities the congregation is up to, and perhaps incline them to reconnect and get engaged. Obviously, marketing to wayward members is not the essence of Easter but this message of grace and redemption embodied in the church is not only for those who willingly choose to be involved, but is a gift that should be intentionally extended to the entire flock of a church, even if the leadership has to work to reach the more marginally committed.
Perhaps we should think of Easter not just as a celebration of Christ's resurrection but also see it as an effort to resurrect a church's own dead-to-involvement members.