Church attendance is down, but lots of people–including those who don’t come the rest of the year–still go to church on Easter, as well as Christmas. The tendency is sometimes to look down on “Christmas/Easter Christians.” But the fact is, on these two days of the year, they show up. Why is that?
You pastors, how do you handle this phenomenon? (Do you take the opportunity to upbraid them for not coming the rest of the year? I have heard that! Do you do anything different?) After the jump, an interesting discussion on the topic from the Barna people.
General church attendance has been on the decline for the past decade and nearly one-third of Millennials who grew up in the church have dropped out at some point. Yet many continue to return two days a year: Christmas and Easter.
“It’s part of a religious hangover,” says Jon Tyson, founding pastor of Trinity Grace Church in Manhattan, New York, and author of the Barna FRAME, Sacred Roots. But, he points out, it’s also sign of a continuing spiritual hunger; Christmas and Easter offer people “access points to transcendence.” And so they return to church for a morning. In this conversation with Barna president, David Kinnaman, Tyson talks about the pastoral pressure of Easter Sunday, the different generational questions of Boomers and Millennials and how Christians—both pastors and lay people alike—can renew their vision for church.
David Kinnaman: We’re coming up on Easter, which means a large Sunday morning crowd. Why do you think people are still drawn to church on Christmas and Easter when they aren’t attending very regularly at other points throughout the year?
Jon Tyson: I think there’s some level of religious hangover. People grew up attending church; it’s still celebrated quite largely across our culture. It remains a reference point for people. The more secular our story gets—the more consumeristic our story gets—the more hungry we, as spiritual beings, get for moments of transcendence. People know traditionally the Christian stories of Christmas and Easter, so I think people come to both holidays because they provide access points to transcendence—to hope and meaning that society is not offering them.
DK: That’s a lot of pressure on the church—on pastors—for those two holidays. I grew up as a pastor’s kid, we work with pastors a lot in our work here at Barna, do you think that’s the right kind of pressure they should place on themselves?
JT: Pastors [recognize] they have a reduced social and cultural platform to speak the Good News into people’s lives, so they feel the pressure to maximize on those increasingly rare opportunities. So I think the heart behind it is a good heart that says, “I don’t know if I’m going to get another chance all year to really articulate what God has done for us in Jesus. I want to make sure that I get that right.” I think that’s a good pressure. I would say however, that pressure should not just be channeled into programming and excellence of events. It should be put into prayer, it should be put into fasting, it should be put into creating ways for people to continue on in exploring the Christian faith.