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Posts Tagged ‘planning Easter services’

My wife and I attended a terrific Easter service yesterday at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California.

Thousands of people attended.  We sang praise songs to the risen Christ … witnessed a multi-sensory video/dance presentation … heard a biblical message on the resurrection followed by a moving testimony … and witnessed baptisms when the service ended.

Because most churches expect they’ll have a larger-than-normal crowd on Easter, everyone goes all out.  There’s an organized clean-up day on Saturday … people bring Easter lilies on Sunday … the worship team plans a special song … the pastor spends extra time on his message … and the congregation leaves feeling upbeat and hopeful.

But ironically, the following Sunday is one of the worst-attended services of the year … presumably because many people have now accomplished half of their annual Easter/Christmas assignment.

But what if a church acted like every Sunday was Easter?

Theologically, most of us know that the early Christians changed their day of worship from the last day of the week to the first day because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday.

But too many churches – as I have witnessed during recent visits – put little effort into planning their regular services.

It’s 3 praise/worship songs for 15 minutes … followed by a greeting time/announcements/the offering … followed by the pastor’s message and a final song/benediction.

This is the basic order of service in about 75% of the churches I’ve visited over the past 40 months.

On Easter … Christians pull out all the stops.  On the other 51 Sundays, it’s business as usual … with the possible exception of a special service around December 25.

No wonder some people only come to church on Easter and Christmas!  Those are the only occasions the average church tries to do anything out of the ordinary.

How can a church make every Sunday Easter?

Let me make four quick recommendations:

First, the pastor has to become integrally involved in the planning of every service.

A pastor can’t delegate worship planning to someone else … and he can’t plan a worship service by himself, either.

There was a time 25+ years ago when I planned all the services at my church unilaterally … then I led the entire service myself, including the singing, testimony time, prayers, and sermons.

I was too lazy or busy to consult with others about the service week-after-week.  But I would work with others on Easter Sunday … and those were always the best services.

Hmmm.

The pastor may be a trained “professional,” but he needs input from others to offer services that will reach both men and women … young and old … and believers and unbelievers.

And he has to learn to value people who think differently than he does.

While pastors need to have the final say on every element in a service … and the congregation expects that he will …  this kind of planning requires getting key leaders together several times a month … and it’s essential if a church wants to make every Sunday Easter.

Second, the service has to be rehearsed.

No, a church service isn’t a show … but Jesus Christ deserves our best efforts … and that means working out the bugs before going prime time.

For the first 1/3 of my pastoral ministry, the churches I served didn’t rehearse any of their services.  If someone was going to sing a solo, they’d meet with their accompanist privately, but no provision was made for handling transitions (where to sit, when to come to the stage, how to hold the microphone, where to walk off).  Consequently, many service elements ended up being handled awkwardly … causing the congregation to cringe.

I remember the day it all changed for me.

I met with the leader of our worship band to plan the Easter service.  He had great ideas.  Then a few days before Easter, the entire service was rehearsed … from beginning to end.

After my message that Easter, three people prayed to receive Christ … an unusual event at the time.

Afterwards, a young teenager came up to me and said: “That was the best church service I’ve ever attended!  If I lived around here, I would go to this church.”

Bingo!  I realized that we needed to take our services up about five levels … and the best way to do that was to plan and rehearse every service.

That will make every Sunday Easter.

Third, the topics have to relate to people’s everyday lives.

I know a church where they offer a traditional service and a contemporary service.

The traditional service is aimed at seniors … and the place is fairly full.

The contemporary service is aimed at younger people … and the place is largely empty.

Why?  Because the pastor preaches through entire books of the Bible … and he doesn’t do it well enough to capture the interest of people under 40.

Many pastors … and I include myself … were trained to be expository preachers.  We delight in preaching through Deuteronomy or Ezra or Ephesians or Hebrews.

In fact, the more challenging text, the better!

During the week, we study the text … gather our commentaries … scratch out an outline … and put together our message.  On Sunday, we stand up to preach.

But let’s be honest … very few pastors are great expositors.

I once preached through 2 Chronicles.  I found it fascinating … and emptied out half the church in the process.

I have a pastor friend who can take a Bible chapter, a single verse, or any topic and hold your attention for a solid hour … but he’s a rarity.

In my view, most pastors should speak topically … just like Jesus did.  While Jesus gave biblically-based messages, most of his sermons were topical … like the Sermon on the Mount.  He dealt with contemporary issues in the culture and the religious sphere – holding the attention of His hearers – and constantly brought them back to Old Testament texts.

And Jesus constantly told stories … and yet my guess is that about 1/3 of the pastors I’ve heard preach recently didn’t tell one story.

There’s a time to go through books of the Bible – maybe in a small group, or at a midweek study – but fewer people than ever are going to church in this country.

Maybe we need to change the way we teach before they’ll even consider coming … just like we do on Easter.

Finally, we need to speak in a language our culture can understand.

My wife and I attended a Good Friday service last week.  While the pastor conducted the service, he didn’t preach.  Instead, the “message” was a monologue presented by the centurion who stood by the cross when Jesus was crucified.

While I would have preferred at least a dialogue … the centurion could have been interviewed on a first-century talk show, for example … I give that church an “A” for understanding how to speak to our culture.

Most churches in our day have a band … and the pastor uses PowerPoint in some form … but we can do so much more with our services to draw lost people toward Jesus.

In my view:

*We need more testimonies (in person or on video).  These can be done as monologues or as interviews.

*We need more presentation songs.  I can’t understand the aversion that churches have to asking gifted vocalists to sing solos.  Yes, it’s a lot of work … but it’s worth it.  (Our home church in Arizona still does 1-2 presentation songs every weekend.)

*We need more creative Scripture reading and more meaningful times of prayer (don’t we believe in the priesthood of all believers?).

*We need to produce more in-house videos.  I know a church full of seniors where they’re more advanced in using video technology than most churches filled with GenXers!

*We need to move people both spiritually and emotionally.  (I cried my way through “Don’t You Hear the Mountains Tremble” at yesterday’s Easter service because it’s the first time I’ve ever heard that song done in a worship service.)

And friends, let’s be honest: strong left-brained pastors … and I include myself … aren’t very good at moving people emotionally.

This is why pastors need to work with more creative right-brained people.

Reaching people for Jesus starts with presenting Christ in a creative, authentic, relevant, and excellent fashion.

But too often, we’re just talking to ourselves … and not making a dent in fulfilling the Great Commission.

But if we’ll make the effort, we can turn every Sunday into Easter.

And people will come.  People most certainly will come.

And they will find Jesus Christ … who can make every day of our lives Easter.

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