As Iím writing this, Iím preparing for the end of Holy Week and for Easter Sunday. For more than twenty-five years as I served as pastor, this was one of the busiest, most intense, most rewarding, most emotional, most exhausting, most spiritually challenging, moving, and exhilarating weeks of the year. Now in my current role, I simply attend services. This Sunday, my family and I will ìchurch-hopî to two or three different congregations to celebrate Christís resurrection.
Actually, I donít ìsimply attend services.î During this week I find myself in fervent prayer for the congregations, pastors, musicians, children, youth, lay leaders, members, friends, and guests to our churches. I pray that our services may be full of Godís resurrecting power even as our sanctuaries and worship centers are full of people of all ages. I pray that our pastors, worship leaders, and music directors are full of passion and energy, and that they are overflowing with creative ideas to connect the story of what God has done in Christís life, death, and resurrection to the lives of the people in the pews. This week, I pray, and I pray some more.
Since early in my ministry, I developed the practice of taking the Monday after Easter as a day off. Usually our church office was closed, and I spent time recuperating with the family. I used to joke with my closest friends that while most of the congregation looked forward to Easter, I looked forward to the day after Easter! That was the day of resurrection for me.
But then on Tuesday, the real work would begin.
Churches that practice Radical Hospitality understand that the week after Easter is one of the most important in the year for furthering our purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. It is during this week that we sort through the names of those who filled our sanctuary for Easter services, and begin to follow-up with some authentic expression of care, appreciation, and further invitation. For small and medium size churches, this may mean personal phone calls from the pastor, or gifts and welcoming kits delivered to first time visitors. For larger churches this may involve volunteers writing personal notes of welcome, adding new names to mailing lists for the church newsletter, etc. There are a thousand good, authentic, and effective ways to follow-up with visitors to our services, and the week after the Easter (just as the week after Christmas and the week after Motherís Day) is critical. Churches that miss this opportunity take another step toward the grave rather than toward new life for the body of Christ.
Iíve been a part of countless conversations with staff, church secretaries, and volunteers in the critical week after Easter as weíve poured over registration pads and visitors lists. I always noticed the tendency (even inside me) to think of reasons why not to follow up with a particular visitor or guest family. ìOh, they were just visiting with their grandmother; they arenít likely to be interested in our church. Oh, he was just here to sing the choir or play in the orchestra, but Iím sure he wouldnít want to hear anything more from us. And her? She comes every Easter and Christmas and thatís all; sheíll never change that pattern. And that family? They were just here for the baptismóthe baby was their nieceóthey wouldnít want to get our church newsletter or a welcome from the pastor.î
Can you hear whatís happening in those remarks? Rather than creatively thinking about how to tailor a response of welcome and of the hospitality of Christ to each person, we sound like our purpose as a church is to do what takes the least effort. It sounds like weíve made saving postage, saving time, saving trouble, and saving effort as more important thanÖwell, saving souls! We can do better.
Whatís your congregationís plan for following up after Easter? If Godís gracious message of new life has been proclaimed through scripture, preaching, music, and community this weekend, whatís the plan to offer further invitation to those who by their presence have expressed at least a tentative interest in our message? Whatís the plan for the week after Easter?
God bless everyone who reads this blog—pastors, laity, members and guests. Iím praying for you this Easter. And Iím praying for you in the week after Easter! And Iím praying for the people who are not yet a part of the community of faith that this weekend may be the first step in a spiritual journey that transforms their lives.
Yours in Christ,