FIRST-PERSON: Evangelizing this Easter

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mark Snowden is the Missouri Baptist Convention's evangelism/discipleship strategist.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Many baseball fans at this time of the year look forward to opening day. Should we look forward any less to the Greatest Story Ever Told?

Is Easter an annual event that we look forward to with joy? What is it about Easter that stirs your soul? Sunrise services? The Easter Story? And does that excitement lead to transforming lives around you with the Gospel?

Driving through a Kansas City suburb during the winter, I noticed a banner in front of a church that proclaimed, "Come Home for Christmas." I understand they now have put up a similar message, "Come Home for Easter." Since I knew that this church's faith group thrives on works for salvation rather than grace, I realized their task-based plea just might get some to show up. But what if that banner had said, "Come to Jesus this Easter"? Would people have had to go to another place of worship?

A LifeWay Christian Resources survey in 2013 found that one in five Americans were undecided about attending an Easter service. One survey item that jumped out at me was that the largest age group least likely to attend Easter services were those ages 55-64 -- only 29 percent. Half of older adults age 65 and above and 41 percent of younger adults age 18-29 expected to attend Easter services. Meanwhile, 93 percent of the pastors surveyed said Easter is one of the three best-attended services of the year.

Personal engagement makes all the difference. Extending personal invitations to a Gospel-centered worship service is important. A survey by LifeWay and the North American Mission Board found in 2007 that two-thirds of Americans would regard an invitation from their friends and family to attend church as very or somewhat effective. And that same study found that more than one-third (38 percent) of all Americans were more interested in "matters of faith" at Easter.

According to the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), at least half of everyone here in Missouri is "unclaimed" by any religious organization (50.7 percent). That total encompasses a whopping 3 million Missourians! Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources and author of "The Unchurched Next Door," believes a large majority of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.

High attendance Sundays are terrific, because I trust that a clear Gospel will be presented in worship and small groups. In the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention, the crowds at Christmas and Easter are not going to hear how they have to earn some level of good works to attain favor with the Lord. MBC churches will faithfully proclaim that the Gospel of Jesus crucified for the sins of the world and miraculously resurrected. He is alive! Praise God!

Easter can be a wonderful season to encourage both church members and non-believers:

-- Engage church members to become disciple-makers at one of the best times of the year to share their faith and invite those they know to church.

-- Engage non-believers who need to repent and believe in Jesus because of His death, burial and resurrection. They may have heard about Easter but not know the Easter Story. And there is a huge difference.

A follower of Jesus whom I know works in a company that outsources some of its work to India. When a rep from India visited the U.S. at Easter, he expressed surprise that he had no idea it had anything to do with Jesus. Where he lived in India, it was only a time of gift-giving when the Easter Bunny visited. This opened a door for the believer to tell the Greatest Story Ever Told -- Easter!

The Easter Story today has stiff competition. And it goes far beyond the Easter Bunny fluff. Evangelizing at Easter competes with presumed familiarity with the story, its yearly place on the calendar (again?) and other churches interested in getting an attendance bump.

As you celebrate, be an active Easter witness for our Risen Lord!

This article first appeared in The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
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