FORSYTH COUNTY — Millions of Americans will attend an Easter service today, including those who might be making one of their rare church appearances of the year.
Local religious leaders are counting on it.
Throughout Forsyth County, churches have been spending the week preparing for the larger crowds drawn by Easter.
“First, we do try to make sure that everyone comes, feels comfortable and there is a place to park and a place to sit, and they feel welcome and feel at home,” said the Rev. Bob Jolly of First Baptist Cumming.
“The second thing that we do is that we make sure that the obvious message of the resurrection is preached as clear and plain as possible.”
The Rev. Jeff Ross with Cumming First United Methodist Church also anticipates a large turnout, though he doesn’t plan on changing his sermon.
“I don’t know that I really tailor the message any differently,” he said. “I don’t try to cover the whole Bible in one day, because that’s the only time that they’re there … People come on Easter because they want to hear the Easter story.”
Though the crowd may not affect his approach, it does mean the church has to prepare for more people.
“We put out more greeters,” Ross said. “We usually do more musically. We may add orchestra pieces or do special kinds of things.
“We work harder, probably, on the Easter and Christmas services because we know those our big services and we have a lot of people.”
Over at St. Brendan the Navigator, the Rev. Matthew VanSmoorenburg confirmed that the Catholic church on Shiloh Road is “very busy this time of year.”
In an email, VanSmoorenburg wrote that they have “eight services for Easter … expect around 5,000 people, and so schedule overflow masses at Pinecrest [Academy] in order to accommodate them all.”
The Rev. Barnabas Powell and his congregation at Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene Greek Orthodox Church have a little more time to prepare, as the denomination celebrates Easter on May 1.
Still, Powell said that he prepares his Easter message with the goal that he wants to see those unfamiliar faces return.
“I always try to make it a little light,” he said. “What I try to do is reinforce the reason that they came there in the first place. I want to reinforce that.
“They feel some sense that they ought to be in church on this high holy day, and that’s a good desire.”
In general, said Ross with First UMC, churches across the country are experiencing a drop in attendance.
“I think nationally what churches are seeing is that people used to come to church more regularly, like a member of the church would come three out of four Sundays,” he said. “Today, that’s a little different.
“We are starting to see active members may come two Sundays out of the month or one Sunday out of the month.”
However, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Forsyth County.
Powell said his Greek Orthodox church is having trouble fitting in all the worshipers who show up.
“I think people are spiritually hungry, and they’re hungry for timeless spiritual food,” he said. “I think people are hungry for authentic, nourishing spiritual food.
“I think that the younger generation is hungry for a substantial faith that asks great things of them. I think they’re tired of being entertained to death.”
Jolly also reported an uptick in numbers at First Baptist, adding that the church hopes to provide a place for residents during these often challenging times.
“We’re really trying to focus on the Bible, with a second focus on people and with a major focus on their children and families,” Jolly said. “In a day with uncertain times, especially with the Brussels bombing and the political climate of today, people are looking for something they can count on.”
“We believe and preach that the only thing we can count on is Jesus Christ.”