For regular churchgoers, there’s one certainty that Easter Sunday offers that most other Sundays don’t — crowds.
“That’s true at just about every domination,” said the Rev. Keith Oglesby. “Our sanctuary is filled to overflowing, especially at the later service.”
Oglesby, pastor at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, said Easter Sunday services typically draw a much larger crowd. It’s a day where he and other church leaders try to connect with attendees, without losing touch with the somber yet uplifting message of the day.
“As a pastor, you’re trying to come up with a message to connect with people,” he said. “And in our culture, the people that don’t come as often — or this may be their first time, or first time in a long time — you’re competing with a lot of entertainment approaches, so how do you integrate getting their attention with still being true to who we are as a church.
“We don’t typically do rock bands or light shows, but we have a lot to offer that connects with people on a deep spiritual level.”
To Oglesby, it’s the sermon. But not his own, rather the story of Easter.
Pastor Bob Jolly at First Baptist Cumming said it’s the story that draws an Easter crowd about 60 percent larger than the church’s regular Sunday services.
“Easter is all about hope, and we live in a world today that seems hopeless for a lot of people,” Jolly said. “So it’s a perfect message for our time and it’s a perfect message for those who may not be regular church attenders.
“Easter is the occasion that brings them to church, but God’s presence and the warmth and friendliness of God’s people welcoming those that come back, and the message of hope that they hear, is what will bring them back.”
Pastor Zack Martin noticed a similar increase last year around Easter. And while his congregation at Lanier United Methodist Church was “pretty cramped,” the service was warm and welcoming.
“It’s always a really moving time,” he said. “Even though we might not see them back the following week, we do all we can to be open and inviting and just welcoming to them, because this really is the biggest holiday of the year for us.”
Martin said his church has a greeter team for those new to Sunday worship to make them feel more welcome. He also tries to get people involved in the message of Easter, living in the light, observing proverbs. But the real reason for which people come to church on Easter is the connection to faith.
“It’s the central story of the Christian faith,” he said. “It’s really the event that everything else hinges on in our gospel stories ... it’s much more of a somber holiday. You meditate about your life and your death.
“I let the story tell itself … the story has been preached for more than 2,000 years. What more could I add?”
With the new audience, Martin said he’s always hopeful to get some people to return the following week. And he usually does get one or two who “come back and try it for a few weeks.”
“Anyone that comes and receives a story and wants to dive deeper into their discipleship is a celebration,” Martin said. “To see it happen on Easter, to see them respond to the Easter message in a positive way ... always encourages me.”
Jolly doesn’t stray far from the story of Easter, one he said sends a “positive message of love and forgiveness.”
“It’s a timeless message and so there’s really no tailoring that needs to be done because it’s good news for everyone,” Jolly said. “It has a message that still touches us and touches hearts and transforms lives today ... there’s no greater theme than the hope that comes out of a resurrection.”
For Oglesby, the only change is in the delivery. The challenge, he said, lies in staying within the tradition while being engaging.
“Part of that is putting it in non-churchy language,” he said. “You don’t want to use language that’s foreign to people, so you try to put it in everyday, relatable language.”
Oglesby said he uses metaphors on Easter. Two of the last three years, his Easter sermon has involved science.
“I’ve done that to help us understand the mystery of resurrection,” he said. “To a skeptical mind, there are a lot of things we don’t understand about physics and other things in life. And that’s still a mystery. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
There are many reasons Oglesby has heard for why people feel compelled to attend church on Easter. Part of it may be family obligation, it could be guilt. But there are also people who are searching to feel reconnected with their faith.
Regardless of the reason, the church is welcoming and not judgmental, he said.
“It’s a festive day,” he said. “Even for people who are regulars, hearing the good news is why we keep them at church the rest of the year.
“It’s just a very festive occasion where we’re rejoicing in our faith in Christ.”