The Mistake of Making Easter Ultimate
Easter presents the church with a natural attendance spike. There will be a lot of effort put into extending invitations and even offering incentives for people to come to your church. For the most part it will work. There will be a huge swell in attendance. There will be people who hear the gospel for the first time. There will be people who will be saved Easter Sunday and it will be a huge turning point in their life. There will be those who reconnect to church who have been away for years. The Lord will bless the day and the efforts of a people who truly exalt His Son, but there will be some things that happen after Easter Sunday that will not meet your expectations.
Some people will show up and leave never to be seen or heard from again. Some of us will work hard to get a friend to attend church with us. They will come. Eventually though, the conversation about returning may grow stale, perhaps even awkward as we drift off into the summer months. Why is this often the case?
For some people we make a huge mistake when it comes to Easter. We make Easter ultimate. What I mean by making Easter ultimate is that the entire conversation and invitation has been about attending church with you on Easter Sunday. Been there. Done that. Now leave me alone.
For those that do everything we dreamed they would on Easter Sunday; loved it, coming back, saved, changed, connected . . .however you want to quantify success, those people are like low hanging fruit. For whatever reason they were ready for a change. There was something the Lord was doing in them that made them ready to respond. Yet for those that are thinking only in terms of kindly responding to your invitation to Easter, of whom responding to Christ or coming back to church is not even on the radar, what do we do so that Easter is not the ultimate end of their exposure to the gospel?
Easter as third space.
For that seemingly unresponsive friend you invite to Easter service, you might as well be inviting him or her to outer space. The technical term for Planet Easter Service is 3rd space.
The concept of 3rd space, or 3rd place, was first introduced in the early 90’s to describe a place outside of home (1st place) or work (2nd place) in which people meet and interact. Evangelicals extended this concept, inspired by a talk given by Erwin McManus, to describe a strategy for Christian cultural influence. 1st space is a place where everyone is familiar. 2nd space describes a broader group of working relationships. These people are less immediate in your life. They are less like you, but they are the people you interact with everyday. In 3rd space you are an alien, a complete foreigner. You don’t know the lingo. You don’t know how it works. 3rd space is a realm in which you have no relationships, a place you will only go by invitation.
Think about it, for church goers, your church is a 1st space. It may be a 2nd space at worst. You are familiar with the surroundings, the customs, the lingo, and the people. But for those you invite to Easter, church is 3rd space. It is unfamiliar and strange.
You call it worship. But for a person unfamiliar with church, the words on the screen look like Christian karaoke. The sermon is a sales pitch. The invitation appears to be the walk of shame. The offering is probably offensive. You may love church, but your friend is alien to the whole thing - and perhaps extremely uncomfortable during the experience. Don't let the smile on their face fool you. They are being polite.
Allow me to wax prophetic about your post-Easter conversation with your friend, which may take place as soon as the parking lot or perhaps the next day at work.
“So what did you think?”
“It was good, I enjoyed it.”
“So would you like to go back with me sometime?”
To the alien mind the word “sure” means, no chance. Weeks will go by. Your friend will not return. At some point they may even communicate to you the not so subtle hint that they would like for you to quit asking. Because you made Easter the ultimate end, your Easter service was the unfortunate end.
Your friend was kind to you. He or she came to the service. They felt foreign to the whole thing. Who in their right mind wants to continue subjecting themselves to an alien experience?
Here is the key. The conversation about the gospel can’t find its ultimate end in 3rd space, it has to work its way into something more familiar. How can you accomplish this? Below are some suggestions on how to change the space:
- Extend the Easter experience into a more familiar space. After Easter service, have a plan to move from 3rd space back to a 1st or 2nd space where the two of you have common ground. Go on a bike ride. Plan on sharing Easter lunch with your friend at your home. Don’t just digest the meal, somehow digest the message. Talk though the experience. The more immediate you are with this the more effective.
- Don’t be offended by criticisms. If your friend talks about parts of the service or the message that made him or her feel uncomfortable, or perhaps even points they disagreed with, don’t freak out. The gospel is offensive. Sympathize with the comment and work through it. Humor is a great way to disarm tension. Don’t laugh at your friend by laughing at their objections, but don’t shy away from laughing at yourself. If you don’t think Christians are funny, visit John Acuff’s “Stuff Christians Like.”
- Don’t belittle questions. Your friend may ask questions that seem elementary to you, but if you make them feel stupid Easter will be the end. For instance, not everyone understands that the Bible is broken down into books. When your pastor says, “Go to John” that could be taken several different ways. Never assume anyone knows the most basic stories of the Bible. When your friend asks questions, it is an invitation from them to you to reduce the alien nature of the church as a 3rd space.
- Make mental clips into conversation pieces. If your church has an app, webpage, or you pastor writes a blog, use that content to share with your friend and keep the conversation moving forward. You can do this in a not so awkward way by sharing thoughts from past sermons or articles that pertain to the natural course of conversation. “My pastor said . . .” “I read the other day . . .” Instead of, “O.K. so now I want you to sit here and watch this 30 minute message from last week and let’s talk about it tomorrow.” Make your own mental clips into conversation pieces. Your friends are like you. They need answers to life. Surely something your church is saying is meaningful to that conversation.
- They came to your 3rd space, accept an invitation to come into their space. McManus’s talk on 3rd spaces was really focused more on this concept. The reason most of us make very little cultural impact is because we will receive very few invitations into 3rd spaces. If you do make it into 3rd space, you may be every bit as uncomfortable with that experience as your friend was with their Easter experience. Recently I have accepted several invitations to speak to groups that were galaxies away from my normal Sunday context. Don’t be afraid to venture into a galaxy far, far away from Easter.
- Don’t farm out follow up. I mentioned this in my post about making Easter effective, and I want to reiterate this point again. Your pastor is a comeback killer. If all your friend gets from Easter is a call or a visit from your pastor, they will never come back and they may want to kill you :). The pastor is the master alien. The visitation team is merely his minions. Your friend probably won’t appreciate an alien invasion from 3rd space. If you wait on the pastor and his minions, you have immediately moved the gospel conversation back into outer space! You keep the conversation going in 1st and 2nd space.
- Help your church get over Easter. To be successful at reaching people, your church needs to ultimately become less of a 3rd space. Sometimes churches become calloused environments focused only on meeting the needs of the people already there. Eventually the church becomes a closed group that becomes more and more difficult for you to invite friends. We need an honest answer to this question. How many people do you see each Sunday inviting their friends? If people are not inviting people to your church, something needs to change. People will bring people to a place that is meaningful and exciting.
Look around. Does the nursery look like a kennel for Christian babies? Does the seating look KJV? Do the Sunday School or small group spaces look like a visit to the principal’s office circa 1953? If the bathroom at the rec. field has more going for it than the stalls at God’s house, oh my! You see the needs before your friends do. Help your church get over Easter by getting involved in the daily process. If you are prone only to serve at your church on clean-up day or at the egg hunt Easter week, Easter has become your ultimate end. Be a servant all year long.
Easter can be an ultimate experience or the ultimate end. Think of how you can use this incredible holy-day to keep the conversation about Christ going with your friends.