In the world of church, Easter can be subjected to as much hype as Christmas. We may not be busy stringing lights or organizing Angel Trees, but many churches are already planning for elaborate Easter services and weekend events.
Wanting to connect with the next big holiday influx of visitors, we plan special music programs, outreach-oriented sermons, vast egg hunts, and large community meals.
But what do the unchurched who are leaning toward a church connection really want to find there? Friends and community? Kids’ programs? Self-help strategies?
A handful of studies from the past few years suggest this:
People go to church because they want to grow spiritually.
Spiritual Motivation by the Numbers
Based on 562 adults who attend church at least monthly, Gallup reported the top two reasons for church attendance:
- 23% say the most important reason they go to church is for spiritual growth and guidance.
- 20% say the most important reason they go to church because it “keeps me grounded/inspired.”
In the article, “What Millennials Want When They Visit Church,” Barna reported:
- 44% of millennials surveyed say they attend church to be closer to God.
- 37 % millennials say they go to learn more about God.
To grow spiritually. To be closer to God. To learn more about God. Though it’s expressed in various ways in the statistics above, spiritual formation is a recurring theme.
Getting a Church Fix
Perhaps churchgoers come to church with the mindset some of us have when visiting an art museum. Longing for an occasionally higher plane—something more than the neighborhood Starbucks and the latest on Netflix—we plan an afternoon of gazing at Jackson Pollock paintings. Afterwards, we feel better about ourselves. And the experience may have been enjoyable and elevating. But we’ve gotten our “fine art fix” for a month or two, and we won’t feel a need to visit the museum for a while.
Disciples of Jesus know that this approach won’t satisfy our deep yearnings for a relationship with God. We need more than an isolated experience with our Creator every now and then. We need daily nourishment and a family of believers.
“Methods Carry Meaning”
Easter Sunday is the perfect time to whet the appetite of those who have only occasional spiritual cravings. But how?
Dr. Brady Bryce was a pastor for 14 years before he joined the faculty at Abilene Christian University. “As churches, we tend to offer things at Easter that we think people want, like an egg hunt, a meal, or some kind of service activity,” says Dr. Bryce, now an assistant professor of practical theology at ACU. “But we forget that methods carry meaning. If we are merely attracting people to fun, clever, intellectual, or entertaining experiences, then we have lost. We don’t want to draw people to events, we want to draw them to God.”
Dr. Bryce offers these ideas:
Reconsider Your Numbers. “The things you count are what count,” says Dr. Bryce. So avoid making visitor (and resulting membership) numbers the ultimate goal. Consider counting the number of people your church members invite to Easter service. Or count the number of people your church is actively praying for in the weeks leading up to Easter. “Change starts with us as followers of Christ,” says Dr. Bryce. “This approach flips the script of what our churches value.”
Start Something New. This could mean a new sermon series, a Bible study, or a Sunday school class. “Easter is a great time to start something new, ideally something that will pull visitors into the larger story of God,” Dr. Bryce says. Starting down a new path toward God can help visitors connect their personal story to the overarching narrative of God, his son Jesus, and the church.
Think Small. Give visitors ways to connect to smaller pockets in the life of a large church, ideally making a human connection, Dr. Bryce says. “Make yourself available to visitors on their terms.” Some visitors want to sit on the back row and observe. Others want to be greeted and welcomed. This can mean utilizing traditional strategies like greeters, visitor gifts, or information booths. But a human connection also could mean a video testimony, or the pastor inviting texts about the sermon.
Remember the Introvert. “A lot of worship experiences are extroverted,” Dr. Bryce says. “Consider a couple of alternate paths for people to encounter God.” In addition to sermons, musical programs, and meals, allow opportunities for space and silence that invite visitors to experience the mystery of God.
Making an Impact At Easter: The Unchurched, Technology and You
Easter represents an unparalleled opportunity for churches, so we’ve gathered even more data, proven strategies for effective visitor follow-up, and principles for assimilating visitors into a live event. The recording is now available here.
 “Just Why Do Americans Attend Church?”
 “What Millennials Want When They Visit Church,”