I know that for many of us we’re tired of hearing about the Global Pandemic. I get it. That’s why 2022 feels like a year where we can finally put so much of that in our rearview mirrors. With so many churches able to return to in-person services with little, if any, restrictions, I am ready to kick all that stuff to the curb and hit reboot!
But, I know better than to just run with my “gut” on things. So, I reached out to several pastors across the country to see where their heads were and it was good that I did. This morning, as I sat down in my home office in Colorado Springs, our warm, mid-70’s, spring-like weather was shattered by clouds, snow, and cold temperatures. This served as the all-too-often reminder that we get more snow in March and April than any other months in the year. While we know Spring is eventually coming, when the cold hits, in the morning, you can see a long layer of clouds coming over the mountains to our West and they just drop and hang over our city for a few days. And, that’s a perfect analogy to this year’s Easter for so many churches.
Coming Out on the Other Side
While we’re all moving on from the past, what the pastors are telling me is that there are still some lingering clouds that disrupt our sunny weather. The past two years have taken their toll on our people and our cities. Listen to a few pastors’ perspectives:
Petie Kinder, Lead Pastor of Peak City Church in Colorado Springs said this, “My main emphasis going into Easter is inspiring our congregation to get back into the habit of INVITING PEOPLE to church. This is something that I believe COVID has robbed from us, or at least gotten us out of the habit of doing. From a preaching perspective, on Easter my focus will be helping people see the heart of Christianity. It was a MOMENT that started that MOVEMENT. Heavily focused on the resurrection, why it matters, why it isn’t a fairytale… and why it has changed everything. In a world full of crazy news cycles, false information, nothing solid to believe in… I want people to see that there is something that has stood the test of 2,000 years to believe in, and it can change everything for them.”
So, we all can see that our people, for various reasons, have lost the “invite culture” that many of us as leaders spent so much time cultivating and building prior to the pandemic. I also like that hand-in-hand with focusing on inviting, is a look at his community and our culture and recognizing that the number of things our communities believe in has shrunk. Trust is low and a lot of people are jaded. What an opportunity to allow them to see there is truly something bankable in this life and it has withstood the test of time.
Two Groups Emerging
Let’s look at another perspective. Keri Ladouceur, the Community Pastor at Community Christian Church in Chicagoland has seen two groups emerge as a key focus. Describing those two groups, Keri says, “The first is those who are far from God but finding themselves open to and desperate for hope. We are intentionally extending invitations far and wide, including invitations to a family friendly event for families in our community. We hope to welcome folks/families of all shapes and sizes to make memories together two weeks before Easter. The second group is more those who haven’t returned since the pandemic began. I know there are a variety of reasons people haven’t and that means a myriad of potential obstacles to them walking through our doors again. The last thing we want them to feel is shame or judgment about where they’ve been. We want to fling the doors open wide and be waiting with a genuine welcome back! Our team is working to call all of the folks we haven’t seen to extend a personal invitation too.”
What strikes me about Keri’s focus is that it has the heart of God all over it. So many times, especially in years past, churches can fall into the temptation of it all being about the service, the weekend, the lights, the band, and attendance. But, here is Keri really loving two groups who need to know we care and love them. To know that they are not being invited to a place where they will be judged or that attempts will be made to “fix” them is so honoring and caring. The second thing that stood out to me was their investment in creating community and fun prior to the big Easter Sunday. This event communicates that there’s something bigger than just the holiday services. This church wants to invest in building relationships with them which translates into valuing them and loving them. With so many having been isolated and turning to social media, love and value are distant ideals that few are feeling, much less seeing as realities in their lives. How comforting to be encouraged to step out of isolation because there are people who see them having infinite worth and value and genuinely want to get to know them.
God Still Moved
Let’s look at one last perspective heading into Easter 2022. Christy Gibas, the Region Pastor of Crossroads Pittsburgh West in Pennsylvania, had this to say:
“Leading at Easter in 2022 is the same as the past two years, meaning, everything is different! 2019 was the last “normal” Easter we have known! That was the largest attended Easter in our history at Crossroads as a church. I remember how excited I was about our services. I preached my little heart out. On that mountain top, I never dreamed that the very next year we would be leading Easter through online services!
Last year, Easter was a challenge because the vaccine was just beginning to be available. We offered many options for people. We hosted services outdoors, and we also hosted services inside. People had to choose their seats through a seating diagram and then the next several were unavailable in order to assure social distancing. Masks were required. Since we are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we were grateful for nice weather. Our outdoor services seemed like a wonderful family reunion. It was a blessing to see people rolling into our parking lot to worship our Risen King!”
I’m seeing this more and more this year and I love it! Pastors are finally able to do as Christy and her team are doing, which is, looking fondly at the challenging previous two years. With all the change and challenge they brought, God still moved and worked and the labor of ministry teams did not return void and empty. Different, challenging, but God still did big things! I love that she starts with that perspective!
The Big Picture
Then, Christy shares with us something new and it feels like something they have learned to lean in on completely. Listen as she describes what this year is bringing for them.
“This year, as we head into Easter and have low Covid numbers and lifted restrictions, it will feel much like the Easters before the pandemic with a couple of key differences. We have no historical data to assist us with planning, and holidays will not net us the growth yield as it once did.
In the years prior to the pandemic, we could always look to the previous years to forecast how many services we would need, and how to plan our volunteer teams. Here in Pittsburgh, we are seeing similar trends that other large churches are experiencing around the country. We do not have the same weekend attendance numbers as we did prior to the pandemic. For that reason, being Spirit driven is essential, not an option. We will use our best judgment and pray for God’s leading in the number of required services and volunteer teams.
In faith, we are planning to receive a large number of folks on Easter, but our primary strategy for growth is not dependent on the weekend service. Here at Crossroads, we enjoy large holiday celebrations with guests, but special days are considered icing on the cake when it comes to adding to our numbers.”
Did you catch that? Christy is shining a light on the big picture, their primary strategy has shifted this year. In fact, she’s about to tell us that strategy is lived out more for the opportunity that comes around Easter.
A New and Balanced Focus
Christy continues, “For this reason, we will live more fully into our stated reality this year. We are a “cell” and “celebration” church. In years past we invested hours of time focused on the weekend and let our group focus take a back seat during peak times. Not so, this year. We have not stopped keeping our pedal to the metal in terms of coaching, group multiplication, raising up new leaders, and launching new groups. With so many new groups launched, we are considering this a “high touch” season with our leaders.
Our worship celebration service will be excellent in quality and people will experience God’s presence. But, we are determined not to take our eye off the ball. Our Life-Groups are paramount to making disciples who will reach our region. We are working with a more balanced approach this Easter to reflect our mission and strategy of sending people with love and power to make disciples who make disciples.”
What I am hearing is this: Easter 2022 is different. The past two years have affected not only groups within our community, but also our approach to sharing the gospel and building the Kingdom. Our call to love others and ascribe to them infinite worth and value has not changed. People need hope, love, and a community of friends to journey with. Isolation only served to make that more obvious than ever before in our lifetimes. Yet, God is on the move within our cities and he’s inspired leaders like Petie, Keri, and Christy who run towards the challenges with one united goal: To bring the hope of Jesus into the lives of the communities that God has entrusted to us. I know, like me, you’re inspired by this!
What is more, I pray you’ll continue to follow us as we will bring Part 2 of this article that will focus on this question: This year, how do we earn the right to have Easter attenders, many first time, become part of our community/church? Or who are perhaps uncomfortable – how do we build a bridge to them?
Pete Heiniger wore various ministry hats in his first ten years of ministry before serving as an executive at Faithlife/Logos Bible Software and Outreach. Then he returned to ministry as the executive pastor for Discovery Church in Colorado Springs. Now he serves Leadership Network in the area of content curation.