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A day of hope: Churches hope to make connections with congregation on Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday marks a time every year when the most people pass through the doors of Christian churches to observe the resurrection of their savior.
The Rev. Mark Anderson of Lynwood Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau tries to use Easter, as well as Palm Sunday, as a time to reach out to those who only come to church once or twice a year by starting a special sermon series.
Anderson said he has read that in a church where attendance is growing, numbers seen on Easter Sunday often equal the average rate of attendance around 18 months later, given the church provides a positive, consistent experience for attendees.
"I always like to begin a series either on Easter Sunday or the next Sunday after," Anderson said, because the timing of a series can be an opportunity for people to get a good experience and think about coming back the next week.
Anderson said he thinks Easter Sunday represents a day of hope, which is a reason a lot of people come to church, aside from thinking that they are supposed to.
"It can be a social thing," he said. "Everybody goes to church on Easter, right or wrong, but it's one of the motivations for why they come. It's a feel good day, they can feel positive about their life, and we just want to build on that."
Anderson's current sermon series, "Miracles," began March 28. He said people have a special interest in miracles because everybody, Christian or other, is waiting on their miracle to happen.
Anderson said he tries to make the series cover topics in areas where people ask questions, such as beliefs in the words of the Bible and family issues. Ultimately, he said, he hopes the presence of more people in church around Easter brings them back to hear more about how the Bible addresses issues in their lives and has answers to their problems. He said he has never singled out anyone who he notices only attends church on holidays, but hopes his sermon series encourages them to see church as a positive environment, as well as build a relationship with God.
"It's not just a once-a-year experience, it's a daily experience, and I'm encouraged every day," he said.
His church has seen a 30 percent increase in attendance in the past year, and Anderson said he expects anywhere from 300 to 500 extra people in attendance today. Normally, the church averages around 850 attendees.
According to Anderson, attendance stays up on the Sundays following Easter, and he uses his philosophy in ministry to make sure every Sunday is more like Easter.
There doesn't need to be a big, exciting, dynamic service once a year, he said. Rather, every Sunday, a pastor should to give his or her best, whether through sermon, song or a creative element used in the worship service.
"You ought to have that same level of commitment every week, because I think that's what God deserves, and that's what helps people have a positive experience every week and keeps them coming back," he said.
Hanover Lutheran Church's pastor, the Rev. Tony Kobak, said he wants those who choose to attend church only on Easter to know that the message of Christ is about their entire lives, not a single day.
"It's a daily walk in our lives in which God defines us as the fruit of the vine. If we are separated from God, we wither and die. The message of Christ is a daily call to repentance, not just a day of remembering what Jesus did," Kobak said.
He said he hopes people are inspired to hear the word of God daily, not just once a year.
"People make the standard excuses of being too busy to nurture their faith. It's repetitive. They say, 'I should do better, I haven't been doing what I should be doing,' but it always comes down to them not seeing a daily need for it."
Last Sunday, Kobak said, his church saw the largest attendance -- 310, nearly double the normal size -- since he began his ministry in July. Although the church has held special events in the past that may have drawn in new members, Kobak said the dramatic rise in attendance is unusual.
"It's not by my hand, it's by God's hand, and we definitely are not the norm. There's something exceptional going on here," Kobak said.
He said he encourages the congregation through the word of God to invite people in the community and to search for those in their lives who are lost and do not have a church home. He said his congregation sets examples with continual commitment to attending church and living out their faith while using words only as necessary.
"People in this community watch us and see exactly what we are doing, and our deeds speak volumes over words."