Easter 2022: How are pastors preparing for large church crowds?

This article was first published in the State of the Faith Newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.

This week, like most Easter weeks, I find myself thinking about the future of faith. I am thinking of pastor friends who are busy planning services for Holy Week. And I’m thinking of the people they’ll be preaching to, many of whom haven’t been to church for months.

Easter, like Christmas, acts as a sort of magnet that draws less-active Christians back to church. Some may return on their own terms in hopes of hearing familiar Easter songs and seeing the special decorations. Many others, including many young adults who are home for the holidays, will feel guilty for dating well-meaning loved ones.

A few years ago, I asked pastors how the unique composition of the Easter crowd affected their preparation for worship. I wondered if they were spending a little more time livening up their sermon. Or if they and other service leaders share an explicit goal of convincing Easter visitors to eventually join their church.

I was surprised to learn that few pastors think of Easter the way I do: as a chance to make a good sales pitch on behalf of your congregation. Instead, religious leaders are generally preoccupied with more holy tasks, such as helping everyone understand the joy of the Easter story and meeting the spiritual needs of regular attendees.

“I realized that my place in this world is with these 15 or 20 people,” Ryan Burge, a religion scholar who also leads a small church in Illinois, told me in 2019. “They need of a pastor who knows them, cares about them, loves them, and gives them the honor and glory they deserve.

Less frequent churchgoers also need this kind of care and love, especially in the midst of a pandemic that is taking a toll on people’s mental health. At Easter this Sunday, they will be well served by pastors focused on their regular work and not on a sales pitch.


Fresh off the press

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Term of the week: Things to do

When I first started reporting on religion, “none” was a major buzzword about the pace of faith. This clever label – which should not be confused with nuns in the Catholic tradition – refers to people who describe themselves as “none of the above” in survey questions about their religious tradition. In other words, nuns are not affiliated with religion.

More and more, I see stories of people who have gone beyond “none of the above”. They’re not just dumb, they’re completely done with faith (at least at this point in their lives.)

Recent research has shown that a growing group of no’s are rightly described as accomplished because they show no interest in joining a religious tradition. “For a variety of reasons, churches do not enjoy the same status and public trust that they once had,” the Survey Center on American Life reported last month.


What I read…

If you want to hear young people describe their relationship with religion in their own words, check out this recent New York Times column that brings together stories about childhood experiences in church.

Congregation Beth Israel, the site of a terrifying hostage situation earlier this year, was rededicated on Friday as synagogue members prepared to resume their regular worship routines. The Dallas Morning News met with community leaders ahead of the momentous occasion.

Along the same lines, I re-read my own story on the Pray Safe Act from last summer after learning that the Senate had just passed the measure, which aims to connect places of worship across the country with security-related resources.

Here is an amazing dispatch from Ukraine from the Associated Press on how the country’s churches are faring in the final days before Easter.


Tips

Last week, the Senate voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. She will be the first black woman to serve as a judge when she takes office this fall.

Here are some notable stories the Deseret News has run on Jackson’s confirmation battle over the past few weeks:

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