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Is your Easter “outreach,” out of reach?

By Darby Jones

Easter is approaching. You and your leaders are preparing to pack the pews. They've ordered the Easter lilies and laundered the altar cloths, and you've written the very best sermon. Everyone hopes that if people show up on Easter Sunday, they'll be back the next week.

However, congregations sometimes put so much emphasis on outreach for Easter Sunday that they neglect other Sundays. They make grandiose plans to reach as many visitors as possible on Easter. Does it ever seem that these "outreach" plans are "out of reach"? This year, why not try a different approach that's "within reach"?

1. Invitations

  • Out of reach: Use the postal service to mail a black-and-white flier about your church's Easter service.
  • Within reach: To your regular attendees, distribute colorful, visually appealing invitations to Easter worship services. Ask them to pray for one person God is leading them to invite. Members can either mail or hand-deliver the invitations to the person for whom they pray. Personal invitations build personal relationships.

2. "Church speak"

  • Out of reach: In your best "churchy" language, explain the significance of Easter.
  • Within reach: Speak about God's love for us that willingly goes to the cross – and survives beyond it. Talk on a level that creates understanding for everyone. Remember, you want to create an experience of acceptance for visitors.

3. Easter as a once-a-year event

  • Out of reach: The celebration of Jesus' resurrection occurs only once a year.
  • Within reach: Each Sunday is meant to be a mini-Easter, with the celebration of Christ's resurrection central to each worship service. This is the heart of the evangelium or Good News! While people enjoy coming to church for the "special" worship on Easter Sunday, be sure to make your worship setting and entryway reflective of the many ways that Christ's resurrection is present in your community throughout the year.

4. Easter egg hunt

  • Out of reach: Advertise a huge event called something like "The World's Biggest Easter Egg Hunt." Whether your church budget can afford it or not, include more than 10,000 eggs, catered food and coveted goodie bags.
  • Within reach: Yes, outreach to the local and global community is the foundation of our faith. Jesus taught his disciples to go out and reach others! That doesn't mean you need to break the bank. On the Sunday before Easter, give each child five or 10 plastic eggs containing candy and an invitation for their friends and families to attend the Easter service. It is great to see children involved as inviters. You could also collaborate with neighboring churches to offer a communitywide Easter egg hunt that provides several avenues to share the gospel. From puppet ministry to a worship band, to sharing the parable of the empty egg (representing the empty tomb), use this event to introduce the community to Christ and invite them to Easter services.

5. CEOs (Christmas & Easter Only Visitors)

  • Out of reach: Announce, "This service is the most important one you will ever experience. You must come THIS Sunday!"
  • Within reach: Make the follow-through part of the Easter experience itself and a basic part of your cultural DNA. Don't stop at the obligatory handshake from the pastor. Invest time getting to know your guests – their history, experiences, perspectives and aspirations. After all, the newcomers made an initial good-faith investment of time and emotional energy by visiting your church. Nurture them into becoming more than CEOs.

6. The UN-expected

  • Out of reach: Invite your visitors to a traditional Easter service, replete with Bible readings and lengthy prayers.
  • Within reach: While reading the Bible is central to worship, try to illustrate it beyond reading only. Work with liturgists on expressive reading styles. Invite drama into worship, with spoken or unspoken parts expressed through "strangers" from a sister congregation. Share the gospel from an unexpected viewpoint – a disciple, Mary Magdalene or an everyday follower. Consider a short reflection from someone whose life has experienced resurrection through encountering Christ.

7. Celebrate at church

  • Out of reach: Emphasize the importance of celebrating Easter AT church.
  • Within reach: Yes, we love to see the pews packed on Easter Sunday, but remember you can celebrate and remember outside of the four walls. Invite families to make Empty Tomb Cookies on Good Friday or Holy Saturday and discuss the significance of the empty tomb. "Adopt" shut-ins from your church and deliver Easter lilies to them as a gift and reminder of the hope and life connected with Easter. Yes, worship attendance on Easter is important, but many things you do outside of that setting can have an equally big impact.