What are your expectations for Easter at your church? Especially for those that are visiting for the first time and who may be totally unfamiliar with the Christian faith?
In answer to that question, I'd like to propose that you Make it OK for visitors to reject Jesus at your Easter Service and in our podcast today I'll tell you why.
Before you consign this podcast and the blog that goes with it to me being a total heretic who thinks "everybody gets saved in the end, no matter who or what they believe in" —be assured nothing could be further from my intention. I take very seriously the truth that if people do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ (and only Jesus Christ, no other savior) they will spend eternity in endless suffering separated from God. That's why I want to share 5 reasons why you need to make it OK for visitors to reject Jesus at Easter.
Be assured, we won't stop at their rejection, but I'll give you suggestions on how to move that rejection into exploration and ultimately acceptance. While you are planning ways to invite people and your PR for Easter, keep these ideas in mind and realize that Easter is just the start of a relationship with unchurched people.
As you begin, you probably need to lower your expectations on getting a significant spiritual response from guests at Easter. Yes, you plan and work to perhaps get a great response in numbers, but in our post-Christian world today, it takes time to make a spiritual impact.
Don't be surprised, shocked, or upset if visitors don't immediately respond to the gospel message you present at Easter and remind yourself and your congregation that this is a natural rejection to any new and challenging thought. Following are some observations and suggestions that will help you respond positively that will ultimately help people accept Jesus as Savior.
1. Remember many Easter visitors don't know Easter is about Jesus.
Visit any store today that sells Easter goodies and from what is on display, what does it tell you that Easter is about? Bunnies, baby chicks, baskets of goodies and lots of chocolate would be the obvious conclusion. You won't find banners that proclaim this is the time Jesus paid for our sins on the cross. It's even hard to find a chocolate cross in many stores today.
Several years ago Barna did a survey that showed 46% of unchurched people do not know that Easter has anything to do with the resurrection of Jesus. I would imagine the current percentage is even higher.
We often talk about how people need to remember "Jesus is the reason for the Season" at Christmas, but most people still know it is about a baby Jesus in the manger even if they don't understand the significance of the story. For Easter, many people have no idea of its spiritual origins because in many cases that have been almost erased from secular culture. We shouldn't be shocked at what people don't know.
2. Easter guests didn't come to your church to hear about Jesus.
Most visitors may come to your church at Easter for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with spiritual seeking. They may want to spend time with family or hear the music or take their kids to the special programs. The petting zoo, free brunch, or the Easter egg-hunt for kids is what they came for. Listening to the sermon, for many, is the price of admission. Most do not come to be challenged in life-changing ways and aren't ready for what they might hear.
3. Multiple exposures are needed for every new idea
For every new idea, whether it is a new way to use technology or a new product, marketers tell us it often takes seven or more (think multiple, at least) exposures for people to go through the process of rejection, toleration, and finally acceptance. Because people in our post-Christian world know so little about Jesus and the Christian faith that it often takes the same process before someone can make an informed decision to follow Jesus.
On Easter Sunday people may hear that Jesus rose from the dead for the first time and like any new message, they will most likely initially reject it. Make that OK. Acknowledge that people visiting the church may have questions about the message. Ask questions with them, assure them of the importance of the gospel and that it is OK to question, but challenge them of the eternal importance of looking for answers to their questions.
4. You have an opportunity to invite them to learn more about Jesus
You can do this in several ways and one of the best is a simple bulletin insert that invites them to seeker studies, offers websites that answer questions, has an email link to people who will dialog with them. It might have a message like this on it:
Still have questions?
Many people do.
You’ve just heard the story of Jesus rising from the dead, but after you leave the church, when brunch is over and you’ve had your fill of chocolate, you might wonder-is it just a story?
Or did it really happen?
If it did, what does it mean to me?
If you’ve got those questions, we’ve got options for you.
On the back of this sheet we hope you’ll check out the websites and events we’ve got to help you in your research.
Take all the time you want.
The issues are worth it.
On the back of a handout like this, you could then list some upcoming seeker Bible studies or discussions, a sermon or teaching series that answers questions about the faith, some websites to explore, some books they might want to read. Be sure also to include emails or phone numbers of folks who would be willing to interact with people who have questions about the Christian faith and who are able to lead a seeker to Jesus.
5. You can personally affirm doubt and invite them to dialog
It's one thing to have it in print, but even better is a verbal reassurance that though they might want to respond to Jesus today and that is wonderful, that even if they don't believe a word you said, that you and the church are open to exploration, discussion, and are able to dialog and answer questions.
The hardest part of all of this, of course, is that you have to really want to do that and have time and/or people who will.
Easter week is exhausting and our natural tendency after it is to want rest and not to actively engage with questioning people, but the most important part of the celebration can come after it if you allow visitors to doubt, question, dialog, search and ultimately meet Jesus, the real reason we celebrate Easter and who can offer our visitors life eternal.