I've heard Google searches for churches increase 30% around Easter. That means more people are looking for a church to attend than at any other time of the year.
As we prepare to celebrate Easter at Venture, I remember back to the days I was “church shopping.” It wasn’t all that long ago. My then fiancé and I had parted ways with a church recently. We wanted to find a new church to call home, but also needed a place to have our wedding. We had 560 people on our invitation list, so we needed a large facility. We wanted it to feel like a church, because our dream was to get married in the church we called home, but that was no longer a good option. Many of the churches we called were quickly ruled out because of exorbitant fees or policies limiting our ceremony and officiant options.
We probably visited a dozen or so places within six months. It was tiring. Tiring, interesting, and at times uncomfortable.
With a high likelihood that Venture will have people who’ve never been there before this Easter, I’ve been thinking about what they’ll experience with us. Most of the things that consume our thoughts surrounding the visitor experience are mere preferences. When visitors leave after a Sunday service, there’s a few questions pastors and church leaders might face. Let me give some examples.
Would they have liked it better if we sang more hymns?
Would they have liked it better if we didn’t sing hymns?
Did my singing scare them (should I stop singing)?
They wore jeans, did my suit send the wrong message?
They wore suits and ankle-length dresses, did my jeans send the wrong message?
He had a KJV Bible, is it okay that I preached from the IAMDBTTAH (Insert Any Modern Day Bible Translation Title Acronym Here)?
Did they understand the KJV language when I read Scripture?
Did my people greet them and make them feel welcome?
Did my people bombard them with a 21-member salute, path to salvation tract, welcome gift, and visitor card the moment they turned off their car ignition, making them feel oppressed rather than loved?
Church leaders can stress night and day over matching the preferences of people who attend, but it’s a battle we will never win. There are far too many mutually exclusive preferences. Churches have split over the color of the carpet.
So what should we focus on? I want to divide this into the two categories of focal points for leaders and focal points for visitors.
If you’re planning to visit a church this Easter, first of all, congratulations! Whether you’re brand new to church and are curious what it’s all about, or are looking for a new church after being disconnected for a while, you’re making a decision that can have a dramatic positive impact on the rest of your life, your family, and your eternity. So I salute you!
When you’re at church Easter Sunday, you’re going to face some temptations. You might want to dislike the worship because you dislike the music style. As a guy who has worked with and played on worship teams for fifteen years, please understand that we’re up there pouring our hearts out to glorify God using the talents and gifts that God has given us to the best of our abilities. We all have preferences, but take a step back and view what’s happening without the lens of those preferences. That guy up there with the electric guitar is singing a song to the creator of the universe! That elderly woman tapping away at the organ keys is stringing notes and chords together to send a love song to Heaven. Set aside your preferences for a few minutes and soak in the reality that God is real, God is alive, God is worthy of our worship, and you’re there for a few songs during which you can tell God how much you love Him. Seize the opportunity!
Maybe the pastor wearing jeans seems inappropriate because you learned we’re supposed to give our best to God. Please understand our best is unrelated to external appearances. When Jesus casts his woes upon the pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew, he calls them whitewashed tombs, clean and beautiful on the outside, but full of decay and the stench of death on the inside. There’s a reasonable chance that the blue-jean wearing pastor who’s going to spend half an hour laying his heart bare by passionately preaching the Word of God just might say something you really need to hear, something that could have a tremendous positive impact on your life. So in honor of Jesus, listen to the pastor’s words and perceive his heart without judging his attire.
Or maybe you’ll feel the pastor is unapproachable because he’s wearing a suit. I can’t speak for why he’s wearing a suit (the only one I own is from high school), but it’s probably not because he wants to be unapproachable. There’s a really good chance he values the work and calling God has given him so much that he wants to reflect that with his attire (which is a respectable matter of personal preference). Again, it’s not the outward appearance, but the inward heart that matters. Whether he’s wearing shorts, jeans, a suit, or a clown suit, try to look beyond the external (as hard as that may be if he’s wearing a clown suit).
Consider this, John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin. He came to preach before Jesus began his ministry 2000 years ago. His job was to prepare the hearts of the people to hear what Jesus would say and accept what Jesus would do. The Bible says John’s attire was a camel skin and a leather belt. Would you have listened to his preaching?
For just one Sunday, I challenge you to surrender your preferences, not to a church, but to God. Before you even go to the church, pray and ask God to take away your preferences so that He is completely free to show you what He wants to show you. You won’t regret it.
Now onto the church leaders.
I’ll keep this simple, because I’ve already expressed the heart of it. Don’t stress over meeting everyone’s preferences. That’s not your job. As you prepare for Easter, ask what’s at the heart of your church, your people, your preferences, and your decisions. When we focus on the inward first, the outward tends to fall into place. Focus on the outward, and the inward tends toward decay.
Happy Easter! The Lord is risen. May you experience a day of celebration, truth, and impact for your life.