‘Easter’s Not Canceled’: How Churches Will Celebrate in the Midst of the COVID-19 Crisis
Churches across the country are gearing up for Easter Sunday, the church’s most-attended day after Christmas. This year, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, many church leaders are scrambling to celebrate in new ways.
According to data from Barna Group’s Church Pulse Weekly poll reported in the Church Pulse Weekly Podcast with David Kinnaman and Carey Nieuhof on April 6, 2020, 57% of churches say they’ll livestream Easter services, 25% say they’ll pre-record and then broadcast services, and 9% say they’ll host an outdoor service with social distancing.
Though leaders may feel ill-prepared to celebrate Easter in new ways, people may be riper than ever to hear the message of hope. In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “A Coronavirus Great Awakening?” author Robert Nicholson, writes, “Could a plague of biblical proportions be America’s best hope for religious revival? As the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, there is reason to think so.”
More so than ever in our lifetimes, the Church may have an unprecedented opportunity to reach people with the gospel message of salvation and hope.
In this article, we’ll explore who typically attends church on Easter, and how we can prepare for them in the context of a digital experience.
Who’s Coming This Easter?
While churches see an influx of people on Christmas and Easter, the make-up of attendees is different for each of these services. Understanding who and why people are attending peak Sundays should drive us to think more strategically and pray more specifically for the opportunity before us.
At Christmas, you’ll typically see more unchurched attend, whereas Easter will often attract many of your inactive members, extended family of regular attenders, and other disengaged Christians from your community. Those that attend Easter service typically have some level of understanding of the significance of the Resurrection and feel a sense of duty to go to church. Understanding this should challenge us to ask three key questions:
1) How does welcoming disengaged Christians differ from engaging with the unchurched?
2) How can we be more strategic in our engagement and messaging to both types of visitors?
3) Fear and anxiety during this Coronavirus crisis are prompting many people to turn to their faith for guidance and comfort. How can we help meet the spiritual needs that are stirring in people this Easter?
Questions to Help You Prepare for Easter Guests
When it comes to welcoming guests at church, you may be familiar with the “10-Minute Rule.” This rule of thumb states that a person will decide whether or not they will return to your church within the first 10 minutes of their visit. This is the typical amount of time it takes for a person to get their car parked and find their way to a seat in your worship service.
With most churches planning to celebrate Easter via livestreaming or through a social media or online video platform, the “10-Minute Rule” will likely be much shorter—possibly becoming a “10-Second Rule” given our short attention spans on screens. This is how much time you may have online to create a first, positive impression of your church. No pressure.
Creating a good first impression is critical. Here are three questions you can ask to better prepare for those who will be attending your church this Easter. (As you think about each of these questions, consider the various types of people I mentioned above that will likely be worshipping online with you.):
1. What will be your guests’ first experience?
- Website: More often than not, and especially during this time, your church’s website is the first experience guests will have with your ministry, especially if it’s their first time to your church, or if they haven't been there for a while. This year more than ever, take a look at your website through the eye of a first-time visitor. Does your website convey who your church is?
- When and where: Be sure to be extremely clear about where and when your Easter services will be happening. Do not make people search for the link to your online service. Also be sure all of your “About” information is up to date so people know how to find your physical church once your doors are open again.
- What to expect: Your website should answer basic questions people have about your church, such as: How long will the service be? What are some ways to get involved or stay connected, especially during the COVID-19 shutdown.
- Welcoming Guests:
- Though you can’t have people positioned to greet guests at your front door, you can create an online welcome experience for visitors. Consider adding messaging to your site that invites people into the online service, such as, “We’re glad you’ve come to worship with us. Please come in.”
- Make sure your online service demonstrates a cultural sensitivity and awareness to good social distancing practices. Your guests will feel more comfortable if on-screen musicians, vocalists and hosts are maintaining safe distance. You’ll show that your culturally aware and that you care about your people.
- Communicate your values. Be sure your website clearly communicates who you are as a church and what you value.
- Create Space for Connection. Some churches have set up virtual lobbies on their websites—a place where people can check in and “congregate” online before the livestream service begins. You may also want to consider utilizing social media tools like Facebook Live or YouTube Live to engage people before, during, and after the service. Social media also offers an easy way for your congregation to invite people to your Easter service.
- Clear Wayfinding:
- Put yourself in guests’ shoes. Feeling lost is one of the most uncomfortable things a guest can feel. Click through the various entry points on your church website, pretending you are a first-time guest. Would you know how to engage with your church? Are next steps obvious?
- Church Property:
- Clean it up. Even though your doors may be closed during the Coronavirus shutdown, you still want people to see your church as an asset in the community. Make sure your property is cleaned of debris and trash and that your church sign has a relevant message. Make your grounds a respite for solitude or exercise.
2. Are you giving guests clear next steps?
- The Last 10 Minutes: I would argue that the last 10 minutes (or 10 seconds if you’re livestreaming) of a person’s experience can be just as impactful as the first. Most churches focus their attention on creating the best experience from the parking lot to the pew—or the screen to the sanctuary, as the case may be this Easter. While vitally important, I’d also challenge you to think about people's experience following the service. If a person has had a positive experience during worship, they are often left asking, what’s my next step? Here are some ways you can facilitate a next step:
- Create appropriate Next Step opportunities. People attending your service will be in varying stages of their spiritual walk and may have encountered God in very different ways during the Easter service. Some may be ready to recommit their life to Christ, get connected to a small group, begin serving, get baptized or become a member. Whatever the stage, your website should point people to take a next step in their faith journey.
- Follow up. For those guests that share contact information with you, have a plan to follow up promptly with those individuals. Here are “Seven Ideas For Effective Church Guest Follow-up” by Jonathan Howe.
My last words of advice would be to pray for and expect guests to arrive this Easter. It may be a person’s first time coming to church, or their first time since last Easter. Either way, I encourage you to be intentional about creating an experience that removes any obstacles or distractions from them having an encounter with the risen Jesus.
About Josh Gregoire
Josh Gregoire joined Aspen Group in 2004. Over the years he has played a role in design, construction, IT, marketing, project development, and business development. Since 2014, Josh has served as Church Relations Coordinator. He is often the first point of contact for churches who are considering a church facility renovation or new building project. His experiences at Aspen and in pastoral ministry have prepared him to come alongside church leaders and help them navigate the earliest conversations and stages of a facility project. Josh also serves as the Discipleship Pastor in his home church, providing vision and leadership for ministries such as Small Groups, First Impressions (hospitality), and Next Steps. He has also served as his denomination’s District Sunday School and Discipleship Ministry Chair, and he continues to provide coaching and training to leaders and volunteers in these areas as needed. He and his wife Missy are raising two kids.