By Matt Henslee
As the dad of four daughters, we’re in the season of finding matching clothes for something special right around the corner. My wife and kids search high and low for the perfect dresses, which usually end up being pastels.
I have it much easier and only need to look at my growing collection of ties that’ll, pardon me, tie it all together. Soon enough, we’ll be in front of the camera for pictures because it’s Easter Sunday.
But something changed two years ago. Toward the beginning of 2020, we made a four hour round trip to find our Easter attire. Little did we know the world would essentially shut down in a few short weeks. COVID-19 had made its way to the United States, and with it, schools, churches, and businesses would have to rapidly transition to what we’d hoped would be a few weeks to end a pandemic.
Soon after that, my wife and kids put on their matching dresses. I tied the tie just right, and we made the short drive to church on Easter Sunday. I got out of the car to preach on the church’s front porch over an FM transmitter while my family stayed in the car.
But apart from social media posts, no one saw our matching Easter attire on the day we celebrated the resurrection of King Jesus. While the former is far less important than the immutable truth of the latter, it’s a reminder of how much changed so quickly.
Two years later and the calendar shows Easter is right around the corner once again. While the pandemic may not be entirely in our rear-view mirror, many churches have adapted to a new reality, and a few are even seeing a return to pre-pandemic attendance trends.
With Easter right around the corner amid this ever-changing landscape, there are three things you could see this Easter—and one I know you will.
1. Increased attendance
As more and more people return to in-person worship services as COVID fades, perhaps you step into the pulpit on Easter Sunday and see a packed sanctuary. You worked hard to get the word out, studied well, and preached your heart out.Although you preach to a crowd, you don't preach for a crowd—preaching is an offering of worship unto the Lord. — @mhenslee Click To Tweet
There’s a fine line between bragging and celebrating, and it undoubtedly comes down to the posture of your heart. While you can and should celebrate a great day, pause before you fire off that Tweet, and ask yourself, “Who’s getting the glory?”
After all, although you preached to a crowd, you didn’t preach for a crowd—preaching is an offering of worship unto the Lord. As Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (CSB).
2. Decreased attendance
Or, you step into the pulpit on Easter Sunday and see even fewer people than last week. Maybe they’re traveling this Easter weekend, but for whatever reason, they’re not sitting in your pews. You’re tempted to despair because you worked hard to get the word out and studied well, but you pulled it together and preached your heart out.
It’s tempting to put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform, especially on Easter. Pastor, I know the calendar only says Easter on April 17 this year, but Jesus is just as risen on Easter Sunday as He is any day.
Take a breath, relax, and remember your job doesn’t change. “We proclaim him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28, CSB).
3. Average attendance
Or, you step into the pulpit on Easter Sunday, and the attendance is just like the week before. You’re discouraged after all the work to get the word out and faithfully study in sermon preparation, but you stayed in there and preached your heart out.Regardless of the size of your congregation on Easter Sunday, the right people are there to hear and respond to the gospel at just the right time. — @mhenslee Click To Tweet
I’ve experienced the first and second scenarios, but nothing has discouraged me as much as this one. I don’t know why, but it always bugged me to have a so-called “normal” Sunday on Easter. We nailed the invites, had a great graphic, and I’d thought I had a pretty great sermon (even though I’m my worst critic).
As Paul said, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, CSB). Pastor, it’s great when more people come. It’s okay when fewer people come, and it’s just fine if you have the same number in attendance. The right people are there to hear and respond to the gospel at just the right time.
4. He Is (Still) Risen
Whether you preach to a packed sanctuary, a nearly empty sanctuary, or somewhere in between, remember your identity isn’t in how many people are there to hear you preach, but in the risen King you preached. I don’t know if you see scenario one, two, or three, but I do know this: it’s okay. Jesus is (still) risen, just as He said!God is pleased with you, loves you, and will use your faithfulness to preach about the risen King whether there are 10 or 10,000 sitting before you. — @mhenslee Click To Tweet
If you see increased attendance, thank God! If you see average attendance, thank God! I know this seems weird, but if you see decreased attendance, thank God! He’s pleased with you, loves you, and will use your faithfulness to preach about the risen King whether there are 10 or 10,000 sitting before you.
No matter what you see among the pews or seats on Easter Sunday (or any Sunday), don’t lose heart; Jesus is (still) risen. Keep proclaiming that good news, and trust Him with the results. He’s working far more than you know, whether you see an increase, decrease, or average attendance on any of the 52 weeks this year, including Easter.