Preaching After Easter

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The Sunday following Easter is, in some quarters, understood as National Associate Pastor Sunday. If there’s no associate, then often a guest preacher or lay speaker fills in for a worn-out, vacationing pastor. The Sunday after Easter is Low Sunday because of the scarcity of people in the pews compared to Easter and the weeks leading up to it. The first Sunday after Easter often doesn’t receive our best efforts.

Why do churches put so much work into getting people in the pews for Easter Sunday but so little energy into getting them back the next week? We’re obviously excited to have a big crowd on Easter; we count on it for our year-end statistical reports! What do we think of those people, the Christmas & Easter crowd? Do we see them as potentially faithful followers of Jesus, or do we take a more cynical approach? The discerning preacher needs to be careful how and what he or she communicates to guests on these special Sundays.

Plan an Engaging Post-Easter Sermon Series

An engaging post-Easter series will grab the attention of the nominal or non-Christian in attendance. Reflect on the felt needs of the typical C&E (Christmas and Easter) person. They do bother to show up on these special days. Something about their assumptions and values tell them it’s important to attend worship on these days. There are vestiges of a Christian culture drawing them on the most significant day of the Christian Year. Yet, worship is obviously not a weekly priority. Other values and rhythms pull them away from the worshipping community on most Sundays.

Many C&E folks grew up as regular attenders but somewhere along the way church seemed to them to be increasingly irrelevant to their everyday lives and they lost interest. We can help them bridge the gap between their perceptions of what’s most important to what is preeminent, or rather, who is preeminent (Col. 1:18).

In 18th century England, when fewer and fewer people were found in the pews, John Wesley went to the marketplace to reach the masses. He said, “I design plain truth for plain people. I labor to avoid all words which are not easy to be understood, all which are not used in common life.” He was the first “seeker-sensitive” preacher. You can be seeker-sensitive without being seeker-driven. To capture the attention of the C&E crowd we must prayerfully endeavor to communicate the Gospel in ways they can understand so the Holy Spirit can convict and draw them into a life-changing relationship.

The Bible is eminently relevant, but some choices we make as preachers make the Gospel claims sound disconnected from the everyday worries and concerns of many of our listeners. Choosing a topic that resonates with the average person is critical to designing a series that applies in a way that will attract them back following the big day.

Promote Your Post-Easter Series

The first part of a post-Easter plan is a pre-Easter plan. Advertise the new series a week or so prior to Easter. Many of your Easter people will also attend Palm Sunday and families with small children may participate in the Easter Egg Hunt. Have fliers available with information about the new series and any new groups or special studies that are beginning post-Easter.

Place a brief paragraph teasing the new series in your bulletins. A more extensive promotional piece can be published on your website and or Facebook page. Tweet about it. Building buzz with your members and regular attenders can also help increase the number of returning guests.

If it fits, make reference to the new series in the Easter sermon. Don’t force it, but if a topic in the sermon is related to the new series, mention that it will be covered in more detail in the coming weeks.

At the conclusion of the worship service, immediately before the benediction, invite everyone back next week for the start of the new series. This is a great way to go out on a positive note that will leave them interested in hearing more.

Easter Matters

Welcome your guests. Obviously, the person who is handling the greeting time at the beginning of worship needs to welcome them, but it’s also important for the preacher to welcome guests and build a positive rapport. Don’t talk down to guests. One might think this goes without saying, but many an Easter preacher has said things like, “See you at Christmas!” or “We’re open the other fifty-one Sundays.” These folks made the effort to show up, we don’t want to give them a reason to not show up again, soon. But, don’t beg them to come back. Make them feel welcome.

Don’t try to cover everything in that Easter sermon. The tendency is to think this is your one big shot and you’ve got to try to cover all the bases in your Easter message. Keep it concise and engaging. Leave them wanting to hear more and they’ll be more likely to return.

What If the Preacher Is Out of the Pulpit Post-Easter

If it really is Associate Pastor Sunday at your church, then have the associate preach the first sermon in the new series. Work as a team to develop the new series. If the associate or other person who is preaching that Sunday participates in shaping the whole series, they will have a greater sense of ownership in the series. Even if it isn’t the main speaker, the congregation and any guests who return, will be drawn into a deeper engagement and a desire to keep returning if a series is utilized. Sermon series have a way of building their own momentum and generating interest.

Whatever we do post-Easter, we want to make an effort to draw the C&E crowd back into worship the next week. A high bar of resistance exists to overcome. An engaging new sermon series and a strategic plan to communicate about the new series will have them coming back wanting to hear more and take their next steps with the Lord and their sisters and brothers in Christ.

Potential Post-Easter Series

Tackle common misconceptions about God, the Bible, and the Church in a series titled, Mythbusters:

“A Good God Wouldn’t Let Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

“All Religions Lead to God”

“Jesus was Just a Good Moral Teacher”

“Christianity is a Crutch for the Weak”

“A Loving God Wouldn’t Condemn People to Hell”

“Christianity is Anti-Intellectual”

Another series along those same lines is: God Didn’t Say That!

This takes on some sayings that have been misattributed to God in popular culture.

“I Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

“I Needed Another Angel in Heaven”

“I Only Help Those Who Help Themselves”

“This Is Just a Cross You Must Bear”

“It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe As Long As You’re Sincere”

Everyone is in a family and every family struggles to nurture a network of healthy, encouraging relationships. A series called

Modern Family Values

is a great way to launch into the post-Easter season:

“Valuing Love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

“Offering Forgiveness” (Matthew 18:21-22)

“Accepting Responsibility” (Ephesians 5:15)

“Clear Communication:” (Proverbs 12:18)

“The Truth About Honesty” (Acts 5:1-11)

“Redeeming the Time” (Ephesians 5:15-20)

“Jesus’ Family Values” (Mark 3:31-35)

This final idea is a great way of discovering what’s on the minds of your regular attenders. Introduce a post-Easter sermons series titled Hot Topics. Elicit topics and questions from the people in the pews. Ask them, “If you could ask God anything, what would it be?” Have them record their questions on a card and place it in the offering plate. Do this two or three Sundays ahead and then intro the series on Easter Sunday with the topics you will be covering in the next few weeks.

Get in touch with your audience. What does God want to say to them? What will help them bridge the gap of their experiences to the truth of God’s Word. Be creative and offer your best post-Easter to draw them back!

Image attribution: solidcolours / Thinkstock

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Dr. Chris Howlett serves as the Senior Pastor of Lebanon United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Ky. He and his wife, Roz, are the parents of Chloe, Josiah, and Lydia. Chris loves soccer, coaching goalkeepers at the high school level. He coaches clergy and laity to discover and utilize their God-given talents and strengths for ministry. Catch up with him at www.chrishowlett.me.

1 COMMENT

  1. A view from a UMC Pew: The title of your article caught my attention and made me smile. I do not have time to read the article at this point, but I did scan it and you make a very valid statement when you say, “Why do churches put so much work into getting people in the pews for Easter Sunday but so little energy into getting them back the next week?” I scanned through your list of suggested topics for post Easter. I have a further thought based on my encounter with the Heidelberg Catechism which has been my tutor in how much I did not know or understand about basic orthodox Christianity:

    In his book about the Heidelberg Catechism, “Body & Soul”, M. Craig Barnes has a chapter titled “Our Thorough Salvation” which contains two sections: “How Low Salvation Descends”–which deals with Christ’s birth and death.This is followed by “How High Salvation Ascends” which deals with Christ’s resurrection and ascension back to the right hand of the Father. In this latter section he says this:

    “It may seem strange that the catechism devotes only one question and answer to the central fact on which our salvation depends: Christ’s resurrection. But rather than as a final step, it sees the resurrection as the first decisive step in a journey that takes Jesus and us, to glory. Nor is the catechism concerned with exactly what happened in the garden tomb. Instead, as always, it asks what ‘benefit’ the resurrection brings to us.

    “…Jesus did not finish his work with his resurrection. Nor was the Savior done working after his ascension. He continues to unfold his salvation through the holy Spirit, “who pours out gifts from heaven upon its members”…The Spirit empowers all of us to join Christ’s ongoing work of pointing to the kingdom of God, to join in bringing this world closer to the world God created it to be from the beginning.”

    In another of his books–and I apologize that I do not have the specific one–Barnes makes this statement that made me realize that Christ’s ascension and gift of the Holy Spirit is what has the most relevance for us right here and right now:

    “We need a whole lot more than a second chance at life with God. We will make just as big a mess of it as we did the first chance. What we need is a risen and ascended Savior who continues to redeem our lives, unfold our salvation, and transform us into men and women who are free to pursue holiness.

    “So we are always grateful not just for what Jesus did accomplish, but for what he does accomplish through the Holy Spirit in our lives every day. We were saved by grace, but we grow into the
    Christian life by the grace of a Savoir who is not done. Jesus continues to free us to do good. And the Spirit continues to make our hearts so grateful that we want to do it.” M. Craig Barnes

    This kind of take was news to me and has given me a whole other perspective. What the church is missing with both Christmas and Easter is the opportunity to say, “As amazing as this is, we have only covered the first two installments of this amazing saga; stay tuned for there is even more!”
    Here is one more quote from “Body & Soul”: “True worship does not try to cram thousands of years of God’s providential work with humanity into individual hearts. Rather, it inserts us into God’s history. It catches us up in the great biblical drama of salvation that began long before us and will certainly outlive us.”

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