What does the Easter holiday represent to the average American? Not as much as you might think, according to a new study released by the Barna Group in March.

In random telephone interviews conducted with more than 1,000 adults from across the country, researchers asked survey participants what Easter means to them. On the upside, the majority of Americans—67 percent—said they view it as a religious observance. On the downside, however, a minority of those interviewed—only 42 percent—believed the holiday has anything to do with Christ’s death and resurrection.

Thirteen percent, the study found, said they weren’t even sure how to describe Easter. And eight percent said it means nothing to them at all.

Most notable in the report, perhaps, was the discovery that only a minority of active, churchgoing Christians—a slight 31 percent—said they would invite someone they know who does not normally attend church to join them for a service on Easter weekend this year.

Understanding Easter
Is Easter simply not seen by most Christians as that great of an evangelistic opportunity? We pondered the implications of these statistics and decided to ask a sampling of Foursquare pastors what they thought about the subject, and how they view Easter weekend in their congregations.

“I think that too many believers and pastors assume incorrectly that their non-churched friends actually understand the heart of Easter,” says Noel Wilcox, senior pastor of New Hope (Moline Foursquare Church) in Moline, Ill. “If Easter gatherings cater to believers, why would this be attractive and meaningful to our non-churched guests? Everything should be planned and shaped intentionally to reach the non-churched—then the congregation will feel confident and comfortable to invite friends and co-workers to a place where ‘no previous religious experience is required.’ ” 

New Hope sends out personal invitations to hundreds of non-churched people in their community who have attended and benefited from previous Family Fun events the church has hosted. Noel notes that on Easter weekend, the church typically has a numeric increase of one-third of the regular congregational attendance—mostly non-churched guests—and that Easter gatherings cater to the entire family with appropriate activities for all ages.

Year-Round Evangelism
David Hendershot, senior pastor of New Life (Frederick Foursquare Church) in Frederick, Md., emphasizes that reaching people isn’t something that should just happen on a special Sunday.

“Our mission is to be ‘neighbors for life,’ ” David told Foursquare.org. “We celebrate with outreach to our neighbors at the core of all we do. We expect our person-to-person influence to grow with more opportunities to invite, include and ‘be there’ for our neighbors, especially through small-group gatherings.”

The children’s ministry of New Life hosts an egg hunt on Saturday, to which kids and adults alike from the church have invited neighbors. They also ask neighbors to join them in the gymnasium for Easter breakfast the next morning. David says this year they expect 250 people to join this Sunday morning pre-celebration. The Easter service itself will include hopeful, personal stories via interview format and special music underscoring the hope we have through Christ.

Practical Outreach
Across the country, in Everett, Wash., Joseph Fehlen, senior pastor of Word of Grace (Everett South Foursquare Church), highlights the importance of reaching out to people in a way that is appropriate to the uniqueness of one’s ministry context.

His congregation is in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. So Joseph came up with an idea: What better way to celebrate the beginning of Holy Week than to have a celebration with a meal Jesus would be eating if He were around today? The result—Taco Palm Sunday, an annual event churchgoing members readily invite their friends and neighbors to.

And what about Easter Sunday?

“I want our Easter service to be as normal as possible,” explains Joseph, “so that if people do come, they will experience what our community is really like. I don’t want to act differently than any other week.”

Beyond Attendance
Chad Budlong, senior pastor of Faith Harvest (Goodyear Foursquare Church) in Goodyear, Ariz., notes that he is actively leading every church member to fulfill four specific goals as they head toward Easter Sunday.

“First, to attend one of our Easter services,” he explains. “Second, to serve [at a service other than the one] they attend; third, to invite at least one un-churched acquaintance to attend with them as their guest; and fourth, to be extra gracious and hospitable to our guests. We have made extensive preparations for seamlessly welcoming and integrating our guests at Easter into the life and ministry of our church.”

Rod Koop, missional facilitator for The Foursquare Church, sums up well the challenge the new Barna report presents to believers.

“This report creates a tension that people of faith must recognize and decide how to live with,” Rod asserts. “Will we wring our hands and talk despairingly about the awful condition of the world we live in, or will we understand the incredible opportunity and responsibility we have before us? It’s up to each of us to be in relationship with unbelieving people and to speak as witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. Those conversations are most precious to me.”

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By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles