The Easter Bump: What It Really Tells Us About The USAmerican Church

church-attendance-boardIt’s only a few days after Easter and social media still buzzes with good reports of Easter Sunday gatherings.  Pastors from around the U.S. are gleefully citing higher attendance, baptisms and the good feeling that Resurrection Sunday always brings.

Personally, I celebrate with these pastors and their churches.

We all need some “wins” in the ministry and Easter is one of those few Sundays when we feel like we’re making a difference.  There is a noticeable “bump” in the attendance.  There is an increased interest in getting baptized on this special day.  There are fresh faces in the house. And there are plenty of warm fuzzy stories of lives changed by Resurrection Sunday special moments.

But if you peel back the veneer, if you step back and take a hard look, if you simply and honestly consider the reality of the moment, something troubling emerges.

Easter Sunday is a very special, once-a-year day.

But next Sunday is rapidly approaching and that attendance “bump” will be strangely gone again like shaved ice on a Phoenix summer day.

What’s truly happening in the USAmerican church?  Why is Easter the only day left when churches can openly brag on higher attendances?  I mean, even Christmas is no longer getting that “bump.”  In 2016, Christmas falls on Sunday.  Mark my words now:  LESS people will be in church than normal this Christmas than usual.  Why?  Because Christmas is viewed as a family day.  It’s not a day to “go to church.”  And, for the most part, they won’t.  What will swell this Christmas will be Christmas Eve attendance.

The problem with the Easter “bump” is the false assumption that this bolstered attendance is rooted to “outsiders” suddenly flocking back to church.  The higher attendance, according to conventional wisdom, is the Easter pews and chairs are filled with seekers, unchurched, non-churched or otherwise non-affiliated. It’s not true. And its not hard to confirm that fact. Just ask your children’s ministry department to see how many “new” families registered their children on Easter. Just ask greeters who regularly man the front doors. Just look at how many checked “more information” on the communication cards (most of whom are church shopping and you’re the latest flavor).

The Easter “bump” is in reality a special “attendance phenomenon” when the ENTIRE congregation finally gathers together in one place. It’s nearly all FAMILY (local church members) showing up at once, accompanied by visiting out of town Easter guests (many of whom are already church-attenders themselves).

After all, depending on your location in the U.S., weakly (pun intended) attendance in the average church runs a wide swath between 5-35%. That means 65-95% of a local church Body will miss on any given Sunday, some more than others. Many people only attend 1-2 times a month. And the older the average age of a church, the higher the percentage for a “regular” (weekly) attender.  The Gen X (b. 1961-1981) and the Millennial (b. 1982-2004) generations are staying away from church and largely attending irregularly.

Consequently, Easter Sunday is when everyone who has an affinity towards Christianity, including those who attend occasionally, make church attendance a part of their holiday celebration.  For those who grew up Christian or have Christianity in their family line, Easter Sunday means going to church, so off to church they still go.  It’s not that they’re not going to church (they still do occasionally), but that they don’t miss on Easter.

And what will these “irregular regulars” find?

Ah, here is the problem.  They tend to find the same thing that drove or bored them into spotty attendance in the first place.  A lack of community.  A nice religious show.  Irrelevant traditions.  Long lectures (sermons).  I spoke to a young (Millennial) woman on Easter Sunday night about her church experience.  Although a Christian college graduate and a pastor’s kid, she struggles to find church relevant to her life these days.  What turned her off the most was the pastor’s sermon:  an 11-point, 45-minute lecture on “resurrection.”  In her mind and experience with “church,” nothing had changed.  Sadly, she confessed, she won’t be back.  If these “irregular regulars” do find the Easter experience enjoyable it might warrant a return visit in a week or two.  But, at best, it only produces someone who attends a bit more than they did.  And if there’s any true “win” from Easter Sunday that might be it.

Therefore, if there’s something that should make pastors and church leaders stay awake at night it’s the slow recognition that their “attractional” and “missional” programming no longer retains the REGULARS, let alone attracts the SEEKER.

Something is wrong in the American church.  And, face it, Easter Sunday isn’t attracting “seekers” anymore.  Even worse, the “irregular regulars” are now struggling to hang in there.  It’s one more proof that churchianity is dying in the USA.  Authentic Christianity remains, but you won’t find much of it in the chair on Sunday mornings.  Authentic Christianity operates 24/7/365.  It’s not confined to a service time, a program or a budget.

That’s why the Easter “bump” can be an ecclesiastical illusion.  Yes, it makes us feel good, and it should (and it’s okay to celebrate the win).

But if next Sunday everything is back to normal it’s a troubling sign.

And that’s not good.

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About rickchromey

Dr. Rick Chromey is a theologian, philosopher, historian and cultural expert. He has empowered leaders to lead, teachers to teach and parents to parent since 1985.

Posted on March 30, 2016, in American church, Christianity, Church Decline and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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