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Infrequent church-goers join in the annual Easter parade


It’s Sunday morning and you normally sleep in, but this morning is special. Like a bear coming out of early hibernation, you rise uncharacteristically because you want to attend Easter services at your local church. In fact, many others all over the nation have the same idea. There’s something about the Easter holiday–or what many call Resurrection Day–that draws out the non-church-goer. It’s the day that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the head of the Christian church.

It seems to be true of both Catholics and Protestants that Easter and, to some extent, Christmas tend to pull more people into church. The question is why they bother?

Edward A. Smith, pastor and founder of ZOE Christian Fellowship in Whittier, Calif., believes “Most people respond because it is considered a popular holiday. Whether they are Christian are not, it is considered a special time in our popular culture. People view it as a family tradition. So it’s good that they come. Because even if they come because of the broader cultural tradition, they get exposed to the real reason why we celebrate the holiday. Many times people come and receive Christ as their savior when they understand the true meaning behind it.”

Of course, the negative side, he said, is that they limit it to the popular culture and “don’t understand why we have the holiday.” At ZOE, like at many other churches, Smith said, “It’s our biggest service. We take advantage of it.” ZOE’s Resurrection Day service is “really designed to reach the un-churched and reflects its largest harvest of souls.

“On Sunday morning nothing compares to Easter service,” he said. “We prepare for it. We think strategically about how to prepare for it. We go to great lengths to do that. We recruit more ushers, we hire a person to clean the restrooms every 30 minutes, we use more greeters to greet people as they arrive, and we put ads in the newspaper to invite people out to our Easter play.

“We do email blasts, mass mailings and tell the congregation to invite people,” he said. “We go out into the malls and the community to invite people. We have special presentations: a large mass choir, a big drama presentation.” Smith said the church uses members as actors in the drama presentations, and they are encouraged to invite family and friends out to see the production. Those involved include small kids, high schools students and adults.

“As a church we do what we call a comeback program, because we want them to have a reason to return. We tell them about events that are coming up. That’s a unique marketing opportunity for us. It’s a major opportunity.”

Church has always been a very important institution in the Black community, although there is evidence that many churches are losing members.

“Researchers know a lot about the types of people who are most likely to attend worship services in the United States today,” according to a Gallup New Service report called “Just Why Do Americans Attend Church,” written by Frank Newport. “There is a strong relationship between age and church attendance, with older Americans much more likely to attend than younger Americans. There is a strong gender effect, with women of all ages more likely than men to attend. There are region-specific effects, with residents of Southern states and of Utah much more likely to attend than New England or West Coast residents.

“There is a race effect, with Black Americans much more likely to attend church services on average than White Americans. And there is an effect within specific religious denominations, with members of evangelical non-Catholic Christian denominations and Mormons more likely to attend than those who identify with traditional mainline Protestant denominations,” the report said.

Still, given these various effects, it is clear that many Blacks don’t attend services until Easter, and churches generally prepare for a greater outpouring of guests or absentee members on that day.
Gail P. Riley, executive minister at Crenshaw Christian Center, gives a slightly different slant on why attendance rises on Easter.

She believes many attend Resurrection Day services “because they understand the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in terms of salvation, but they are not enlightened on the idea of the total transformation that His resurrection has in regards to their everyday living. According to the Word of God, however, the reason they should attend church regularly is out of obedience to God.

“Hebrews 10:25 cautions Christians to not forsake ‘the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching,’” she said.