Easter Attendance FAIL

April 25th, 2011

Chances are if you went to church yesterday, there were a few extra strangers sitting near you.

Yesterday afternoon, Twitter was flush with people reporting that Easter at their church was “crazy” or “awesome” or “crazy awesome,” because a ton of people showed up.

And while I don’t want to throw cold water on everyone coming off their chocolate fueled Easter high, I’ve got one reaction to everyone who thinks their Easter was insane, and to the churches whose Easter was maybe less than “insane:”

So what?

Actually, I’ve got a bit more to say about it than that. Let’s talk about real success and failure in church.

What Do Numbers Have To Do With Anything?

Easter is like Black Friday for churches. It’s like a benchmark for how “well” a church is doing. Pastors get all amped up because they ran out of parking spaces or chairs or whatever.

And while it’s great if people got baptized yesterday, getting on Twitter or Facebook and boasting about how many people showed up to church just seems to miss the point…and it makes us sound like a bunch of phonies.

The Week After Easter

Because first, you know that you don’t have to be in church long to realize that Easter attendance is nothing to get excited about. No one will be in church next week. The Sundays after Easter and Christmas are like bad church hangovers. And they’re not funny, like The Hangover appeared to be in previews. They’re about as unfunny as The Hangover turned out to be in reality.

Have you ever tweeted or blogged about how many Christmas presents you received, or how freaking awesome the ham was at Easter dinner? No, because you’re not a tool. But boasting about Easter attendance is a lot like that.  Nobody cares, pretty soon you won’t care, and it’s not at all what the holiday is about.

What If Your Easter Was A “Failure?”

People who boast about their church’s Easter numbers always justify their self-aggrandizement by giving God credit for leading everyone to church or something. Personally, I think most people show up to Easter church because they have a new outfit they need to show off, but I guess the Lord takes many forms, including sundresses. But I have to ask: if God led all those people to church on Easter, is He responsible for them staying home the next Sunday?

This is what bugs me most about getting all puffed up over numbers. We always try to quantify “how much” God is doing through our church. So we boast that God led five thousand people to our church on Easter Sunday. But no matter what God does, we always want more.

Well what if God didn’t lead five thousand people to my church? (He didn’t.) What if your church had two, or no visitors yesterday? Does God love us less? Are we not as faithful as that megachurch? Why does God choose to “do more” through them?

All of the measuring, ranking, and boasting about what God is supposedly doing just puts a number on something that can’t be measured. And it gives every pastor an inferiority complex, which is just what we all need because pastors aren’t mental enough as it is.

The Biggest Failure

If you haven’t guessed, I’m annoyed with churches that do nothing but count the numbers. Bigger numbers supposedly equal success. Guess what? Christianity isn’t exactly a growth market right now. If we’re going to be faithful, we may have to get comfortable with doing more with less. We may have to learn to get excited about something other than how many butts we can put in the seats, because there are going to be fewer of them. I love to call my house church that: an experiment in doing more with less.

Can your church be a failure? Only if you constantly count the numbers. Only if you set human goals and measure success by human terms. Churches don’t close because they fail or aren’t sustainable. There’s no church that’s unsustainable, or a failure, no matter how small. They just doesn’t meet our expectations, and we don’t we don’t want to keep them going without the rewards of human “success.”

The only way a church could fail yesterday would be if it ignored the true miracle of Easter. If you had five thousand people show up, or five people, I don’t care, but if the miracle of Easter took a back seat to your attendance numbers, then you are the biggest failure I know.

So really, how successful was your church yesterday?  Have you ever been in a church that “failed?” Did it really fail, or did it just not meet your expectations?


Matt Appling is a pastor and school teacher in Kansas City, Missouri.  He blogs at TheChurchOfNoPeople.com.

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