Sunday, March 23, 2008

Commercials On Easter?

Over the last several major Christian holidays, we've employed some... shall we say "unique"(?) message series as backdrops.

Christmas 2005: Narnia
Easter 2006: CSI (Crucifixion Scene Investigation)
Christmas 2006: Jesus, No More Mr. Nice Guy
Easter 2007: Dragging 110%
Christmas 2007: Christmas II: The Sequel
Easter 2008: Commercials

With each of these series, I've received similar comments in advance of their launch: "What in the world does {insert series title here} have to do with {the holiday in question}?" It's true, on the surface, Harley motorcycles and barbed wire have nothing to do with Christmas, and Fazoli's signs have nothing to do with Easter. But there is a method to the madness.

At holiday times, we receive more guests than at other times of the year, and we want to do everything we can to encourage them to come back--to be here more than once or twice a year. So how can we do that? Here are some ideas:

  • We can decorate the sanctuary with Easter lilies or Christmas poinsettias. Would that make an unchurched person come back the next week? History would seem to indicate that it doesn't.
  • We can put together a special cantata or a children's choir performance of music that unchurched people are unfamiliar with. Maybe it will take several months to prepare and consume the whole service time, leaving no room for a message that might engage them or cause them to ask questions or seek to find out more.
  • We could dramatically re-enact the biblical stories with no explanation about what this has to do with my day-to-day life.
  • We could have an extra-long message that is essentially a course in systematic theology, covering the atonement, redemption, justification, sanctification, and exaltation. We could lay out a complicated, detailed plan of salvation that answers every question nobody would ask.

These are the traditional ways that Easter is commemmorated by most churches. Some of them even like to combine these different elements.

Here's our approach: We want to do whatever we can to bring our visitors back the week after they come for the special holiday. So we keep a few things in mind:

  • We figure they've already had a "traditional" Easter/Christmas experience. They were probably at a church last year and the year before that. That approach wasn't successful in attracting them, so we want to try something different.
  • If they come for a "special" week and they do come back, we want that week to be just as special. For instance, if a person comes on Easter and there's a re-enactment of the Bible story, won't they be disappointed when that never happens in that church again? We want our services to be representative of what we do here every week so that there won't be any disappointment for return guests.
  • Most of our guests have had negative experiences with church. They might show up at "special" times of the year, but for the most part that's about as much church as they want to get. We want them to leave saying, "Boy! That was really different, not at all what I expected!" Because what they expect is to be bored and/or put down.
  • We want them to engage with the message, to listen, to think about it, to consider it. One of the ways we do that is by connecting things that don't seem connect-able. Impact goes down as predictability goes up. If we give them the same old Easter church service, we miss the chance to make an impact.

If it's about us and serving ourselves, then we can just trot out all the traditions that make us feel like we've "had Easter." But if our mission is to reach out to the community around us, we need to do something different--because what we've been doing isn't bringing them back.

This series is all about evaluating the messages that we receive from the world around us. To me, that's what Easter is all about, because we don't want the gospel to be just one more message that people try to shut out.

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