Should we use Easter as a focus in a replant (or any church?). The answer is a definite, “Maybe!”. Let me share how it can be really helpful to a local church and how Easter outreaches might hinder the work of a local church.
Jim learned that Jesus died for him
Six years ago this Easter season Jim walked into Milwood’s front doors an unbeliever and trusted Christ on Easter Sunday a few weeks later. That was the first time he had been to a church in a long time. Jim was baptized as a child after hearing a fire and brimstone sermon. His logical response to that message was to believe in Jesus and be baptized. But Jim didn’t really believe then and his life following his baptism displayed his lack of faith.
When Jim showed up in our church he had done time in a federal penitentiary for 12 counts of bank robbery. The man could write a book on his life! His handle-bar mustache, gruff presence, and his steel stare made him stand out. Frankly, some of us were scared. After attending his first service, Jim came forward and let me know in no uncertain terms he wasn’t having any of this religious stuff. He would later say in his baptism testimony, “I thought it was the greatest story ever told—and just that, a story. Smoke and mirrors.”
Through other events previous to the Easter season God had already been working to open Jim’s heart to believe the gospel. That Easter, which was my first as pastor, we did an outreach with John Piper’s book Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die. We coordinated our Easter Sunday preaching with the theme of the book. We bought several cases of the book to put in our member’s hands. We printed cards to insert into each book which had our Easter service information. We put these resources in the hands of our members to go out and talk to neighbors, friends, co-workers, waiters/waitresses, baristas, etc.
I never imagined that a guy like Jim would even read Piper’s book. A mechanic shop manager who, in my eyes, had no desire to even listen to a sermon was not about to read John Piper. Honestly, I didn’t take him for much of a reader at all. But I was wrong. Jim read it twice. He came to me following the service on Easter Sunday and said, “I believe it”. He had come to terms with the Lord alone in his garage that week. He and his wife Janet were baptized a few months later.
To be clear, our Easter outreach didn’t save Jim. It didn’t even work like it was supposed to in Jim’s case. Jim literally walked into our Easter outreach. Members were suppose to take the books out there. Jim was sort of a fish that jumped in the boat. But when he walked in, he walked into a church that was being led to think about evangelism and a church that was preaching the gospel. He received a book and saw that the church intentionally had the gospel on their agenda.
Today, Jim is going through the STEPS program produced by the Village Church in the hopes that he can mentor someone else through the same ministry. He has served tirelessly and joyfully in our children’s ministry (a bank robber ministering to children!). Most Sundays you’ll see him handing out worship guides and helping take up the offering.
Our Easter book handout played a small part in his coming to Christ. Jim said in his testimony, “The book Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die brought me around. That’s the book. I read it, read it twice. On Easter Sunday I told the pastor, ‘I’m ready, you got me, I believe.’ And I do.”
Easter Can be Dangerous for a Replant
Be careful. An Easter outreach might kill evangelism in your church and community. It’s possible that your church is in a replant situation precisely because they’ve been doing Easter outreaches for 10+ years. As the pastor, you have to discern whether a seasonal outreach ministry will raise your church from apathy toward evangelism or if it will further ingratiate your congregations’ thinking that evangelism happens a few times a year.
If your church has only seen evangelism pushed from the pulpit during high attendance seasons then don’t do an Easter outreach. Consider making Easter more of an inward focused, spiritual development season. Lead your church through a lenten like season where they focus on confession of their sin and profession of the gospel. Use the season to highlight the explicit gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for the sake of your church’s spiritual vitality.
When I led our church through that first Easter outreach, the long lasting culture of evangelism in the future was not something I was thinking about. Looking back, I might have done what I just said we shouldn’t do.
Easter Can Be a Boost in a Replant
Easter can be a season, however, where your church takes intentional steps toward growing a culture of evangelism. If your church (like just about every replant) has no culture of evangelism, then Easter can be a sort of “easy on ramp” to sharing the gospel. People in the community are often aware of Easter season because those gross little yellow peep birds show up on store’s candy shelves. Your church is also thinking about Easter and probably wondering, “what are we going to do this Easter.” They are probably watching you as pastor, wondering what kind of tone, mood, and purpose you are going to set for Easter.
Leading your church through a seasonal outreach can be a way to show your church, “We are going to be about seeking and saving the lost. We’re not just about us anymore.” An outreach focus can teach them to be aware of the lost, be ready to receive visitors, and begin to see the most precious moments in their church calendar through evangelistic lenses. It can be a really good way to begin the long work of creating a church culture that celebrates evangelism. In short, it can help get people excited about evangelism by putting resources in their hands and bring the church to be on mission together.
They key here is to not leave all your evangelistic emphasis behind in the Easter season. How are you going to follow up after Easter? How will you lead your congregation to do evangelism in similar methods the rest of the year? Is Easter only about getting people to church (bad evangelism method). Or is Easter a way to build gospel-centered relationships (better evangelism method). You should ask, “is what we are doing this season replicable by our members all year?” Can they take what they learn here and do it anytime? Take painful steps to make sure what you are asking the church to do does not begin and end with Easter.
These are the kind of pastoral decisions all pastors have to make all the time. What are we really teaching our people through this ministry? What kind of culture are we building in the long run?
Easter outreach can be a great thing! There are “Jims” out there who will read Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die and maybe come to Christ during an Easter outreach focus. So cast that net. Lead and send your members out. But teach your people to be net casters all year long.
If you think they way your church has celebrated Easter will reinforce a culture of event-based evangelism it’s time to reevaluate, even if if you are really hungry for an early win in your pastorate. Settle for the longer haul of rebuilding the whole framework of evangelism. Jim was lost all year long. He didn’t need an Easter outreach. He needed the gospel of Jesus Christ preached by a loving local church.
Published March 23, 2017