According to Pew Research Center, the word "church" is searched for on Google more frequently on Easter Sunday than any other day of the year. The LifeWay Christian Resource network reports that 41% of American adults will attend church on Easter Sunday, while approximately 1 in 5 "don't know" if they will attend. In comparison to the average number of regular church-goers the rest of the year, which hovers in the mid-30's percentile range, this indicates around a 10% increase in church attendance for Easter Sunday (PRC).
As we enter Holy Week, the week leading up to our celebration of Easter, it is important that we consider the amazing opportunity presented to each of us by these trends. We have a responsibility to love, reach, and pray for the visiting 10%.
Traditionally, this spike in attendance has been a well-known trend in churches for many decades. Perhaps your pastor or minister has already spoken to your congregation, asking you to pray diligently for the people who spend most of their year "on-the-fence," or asking you to be intentional in meeting and encouraging these visitors. If-so, great!
But, more often than not, I think we have the tendency to allow the 10% to fall through the cracks.
They come on Easter, maybe Christmas, and we never see them again. From our perspective, it is often they who have a problem. It is they who need to step up and be more obedient. It is they who ought to be ashamed of their apathy. However, if we are honest with ourselves, this closed-off, us-vs.-them perspective is much too convenient. Certainly, we as the Body of Christ share responsibility in this situation in a variety of ways.
Perhaps members of the 10% have been personally hurt by regular church-goers in their past. Maybe they have felt judged, criticized, or alienated. In some cases, certain members of the 10% may genuinely be visiting a church for the first time in their lives. When these people walk into church on Easter Sunday, what will they experience? What kind of people will they find inside? How will they feel walking out of the doors following the service?
My point is this: we as Jesus-followers need to take the opportunity of Easter Sunday more seriously.
Scripture says in Colossians 4:5-6. "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."
In the context of our unfortunate us-vs.-them perspective, the people of the 10% play the role of "outsiders" in verse 5. We as regular church-goers play the role of "insiders." Paul, who wrote the letter to the church in Colossae, indicates that we must be intentional in the way we act towards these visitors. What does this mean?
It means that the outsiders should not feel like outsiders once they walk through the door into our churches and interact with each of us. Instead of awkward, insincere greetings we can offer warm welcomes. Instead of internal judgement-passing, we can open ourselves to show grace. Instead of going through our regular Sunday routine, we can find intentional ways to bless and serve visitors.
Verse 5 goes on to instruct us to "make the most of every opportunity." Opportunity is presented to each of us by God in unique ways. It could be as simple as a quick, encouraging conversation with a visitor. It could be as in-depth as inviting a visiting family over for lunch at your home following the service. Whatever God presents to us, we should make the most of it by showing love and reaching out. You or I could be the only Jesus-follower that a particular visitor speaks to on Easter Sunday.
Verse 6 says that our interactions with the 10% should be "always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." Whether it's the nominal business-person, the skeptical millennial, or the anxious foreigner, God gives us only one option in how to serve him or her: grace. We all know how much grace our Lord Jesus has shown us, so the least we can do is extend it to others. If we find ourselves judging and avoiding interaction, it is time for a heart-check.
To season our interactions with salt is a metaphor that instructs us to sprinkle in God's Word and the message of the Gospel while we welcome them and listen to their stories, according to the Spirit's guidance. Listening is much more important. In many cases, members of the visiting 10% may feel like they have not been heard by those in the church. If they feel heard, they will be more open to receiving what we have to offer by way of scripture or witness.
Although we may not have every answer to every question, we can still "know how to answer everyone" by way of pointing them to the Scriptures, introducing them to other church-members, and connecting them with the resources they may be looking for. If this Sunday was your first time to church, how would you feel if you left confused and without any direction?
In short, it is vital that we be praying this week for those who will walk through our doors this Sunday. We pray for their hearts to be open and drawn, and for our hearts to be tender and gracious. We must seek to show intentional acts of love and hospitality, even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable for us. Most importantly, we must be willing to share the hope that we have found in Christ.
Let us take this opportunity seriously, and may God abundantly bless our brothers and sisters of the 10% who will visit our churches this weekend.
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director at IDES