his consulting season of my ministry meant that I played with a worship team on Easter Sunday at a church that we don’t consider our permanent home. This afforded me a neat opportunity – to play on the worship team while at the same time experiencing the service through the eyes of an outsider. I was reminded of a number of insights I’ve had about Easter Sunday in the past and I’ll present them here so that I’ll remember them for next year and hopefully help you too.
1. Use relatively familiar hymns
It’s no secret that many people who rarely attend church will show up on Easter Sunday. By using some hymns, you increase the likelihood that these newcomers will have heard some of the songs before. Plus, your regulars will know them and sing with gusto, making it easier for newcomers to a. sing along and b. comprehend the personal impact of the resurrection in the lives of believers.
2. Use contemporary songs intentionally
While it is likely that much of the music will be new for unchurched people, we can present it in a way that makes it accessible. For Easter Sunday, avoid difficult bridges that come and go with only one pass. Consider singing the chorus of a song a few extra times or even teach a part of it before singing it. Obviously you can’t do that with every song, but a little bit of intentional attention will go a long way in helping non-believers feel welcome.
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, consider the words of commitment that we sing and help people to process them. Believers sing words like “I’m broken inside” and “once again I pour out my life” without too much thought since they are a part of the vocabulary of Christian life, but asking nonbelievers to sing those words is awkward and frankly inauthentic. Invite people to sing or not to sing, and if they choose not to sing, use that time to reflect on what these words might mean. If appropriate, take time to reflect on the meaning of a lyric, helping non-believers to understand what it means. That’s the impetus behind Paul’s exhortation to clarity in prophesy in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 and that leads to outsiders feeling conviction and acknowledging God’s very presence.
3. Keep prayers short and focused
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray … to be seen by men” (Mat 6:5 NIV). Absolutely, take time to pray for your people and especially to make the connection between the resurrection and the advancement of God’s Kingdom. But it doesn’t need to be long. Long prayers will be foreign to non-believers and they may get lost or simply tune out. Plus, there are likely many visiting children, some of whom are reluctant to go to Sunday school (and might not be used to sitting quietly), and succinct prayer will minimize the possibility of distraction.
4. Prep your transitions
This should, of course, be a goal every week but it’s especially appropriate with many guests present. Clearly, our goal is not excellence for the sake of excellence, but how we do things reflects how we feel about them. Typos on projected lyrics, faulty music stands and malfunctioning equipment can communicate that what we’re talking about really isn’t that important. By coordinating who turns on the mic, who brings up the music stand, who does the Scripture reading, we help minimize distraction and affirm that what is about to be said deserves being listened to.
5. Have a follow-up plan
As I looked out at the crowd that was bursting the seams of the usually comfortably full church, I wondered, how many of these faces will we see again? This church invited people to fill out information cards and promised to contact people if they were willing. That’s great. I also assume that many people were there because they had been invited by family or neighbours or friends; we should encourage those people in our church to follow up with their guests, and to continue to pray for them in the service.
6. Give all generations a voice
This particular Easter Sunday was encouraging to me because it involved people from a variety of generations. Not only is this great for empowering younger people, it also demonstrates that church is not for gray-hairs only and Jesus is indeed still building His Church.
7. Tell the Truth
It may seem from the previous points that I’m all about catering to non-believers on Easter Sunday. The reality is that Easter Sunday is probably the most important Sunday in the church year so we can’t neglect our committed believers and we can’t bait and switch the newcomers. We have to tell the Truth: Jesus died to ransom sinners, of whom we were the worst. His resurrection calls us no longer to live for ourselves but for Him who died for us and was raised again (2 Cor 5:15). Reading the early Acts sermons, you recognize that the apostles pulled no punches: “…you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Act 2:23 NIV) and that statement is true for every one of us, believer and non-believer alike. Jesus bore the sin of the whole world (1 Tim 2:6, 1 Jn 2:2). We must each now respond. We need to speak plainly and to be sure that all come to understand and appreciate the death, resurrection and implications that make Easter GOOD.
Please feel free to share your observations below—whatever we can do to give God the glory He deserves—whatever it takes to celebrate this truth: “…Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs… This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Act 2:22-24 NIV).
Graham Gladstone is a worship leader and consultant currently serving Lincoln Road Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario. An M.Div. graduate, he is passionate about corporate worship shaped by careful biblical reflection and heartfelt Spirit-led prayer. Connect with Graham at jbdomusic.com or @gwgladstone.