Those who return to church this Sunday will note that their places of worship aren’t full like last Sunday. They will notice less crowded parking lots, nursery and pews and mournfully ask, “Where is everybody? Why can’t we be as full as we were last week?”
Many churches will continue to enjoy very good attendance through mid- to late May. But nobody will mistake Sunday, April 7, for Sunday, March 31; the nursery staff, greeters and ushers will shrink to normal size; fewer worship bulletins will be printed, etc.
But before one jumps on the bandwagon bemoaning the dropoff, stop to consider whether any congregation could sustain an Easter Sunday morning worship service on a weekly basis.
My young adult son unwittingly provided me the theme for this week’s column when he described the Easter Sunday worship service he attended in Denver, Colo. Like many churches across Christendom, the downtown sanctuary there was full. When I asked him to evaluate the morning he described it as a case of “sensory overload.”
If you attended an Easter worship service, you may understand. My son remarked about the crying babies, crowded pews, ushers efficiently flashing hand signals to each other to indicate a few seating spots for latecomers. Churches of almost every size schedule extra music, even if just a new soloist or a single instrument. Many churches have brass ensembles and/or full symphony orchestras, some of which come at a heavy expense to the church budget. The choir makes sure to sing their most dynamic anthem of the entire year, probably adding a couple of extra pieces, including Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Then there are the beautiful Easter bonnets, pastel bowties and the shiniest shoes one will see all year.
These are good things! Such crowds and special attention to worship produces awe and joy in the Easter congregation and Easter Sunday should be something like this. To have extra crying babies is a wonderful thing. As one of my ushers observed, “On Easter Sunday, worshipers don’t have to stretch to pass the offering plate.”
If there is one Sunday of the year that produces being “over the top” it would be this Sunday. It will be a sad day when church attendance no longer swells on Easter.
But “Easter sensory overload” comes with potential downsides. Unless one is very careful the service can feel more like a performance/production than an hour of worship. Participants — choir, musicians, preacher, ushers and even congregants — can try too hard to be joyfully exuberant over this victory over death. And then there’s the previously mentioned discouragement when the crowd contracts the next week.
Let’s savor last Sunday’s celebration, but without despairing when we can’t reproduce it the other 51 Sundays. Like the child who soon grew weary over Christmas every day, I’m sure the church could not sustain 52 straight Easter Sundays. What would remain to make Easter special in 2014?
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.