For the first time in 13 years I was not serving as the pastor of a local congregation on Easter Sunday. It was a strange feeling to not be concerned about all the happenings on what some describe as the “Super Bowl Sunday” of the Church year!
So, I had time to go to Starbucks.
Wouldn’t you know – there were lots of people at Starbucks on Easter morning! Not only were there lots of people at Starbucks – there were lots of people at the restaurants I passed on my way to Starbucks, no doubt enjoying an Easter brunch. Clearly, plenty of people were not concerned about making it to church on Easter.
Not long after, we did make it to the church around the corner from our in-laws. It’s a large church and it had all of the great trappings of Easter. Instead of the normal two services—they had three and the one we were in was packed to the walls. It was standing room only inside the auditorium plus additional seating and viewing in the cafe outside the auditorium.
My two year old daughter loves worship music and she happily sang and clapped through the opening worship set, the creative drama, and even the first few minutes of the sermon. However, after the introduction she was getting a bit restless so I wandered out into the cafe area with her along with a handful of other parents at the same time. It didn’t take but a few minutes of conversation (always easy to do with kids of near the same age) to realize that church attendance was not the norm for most of these moms and dads. They were there – but I doubt they expected to return.
I listened to the sermon as it was broadcast over the speakers and through the televisions in the lobby and it was standard Easter fare. However, I wonder how most of the infrequent attenders felt about that sermon.
Sitting with all this as we drove back toward home later that night, I realized the shift in perspective that my first Easter without being the pastor of a local congregation brought. I’ve served as pastor of three congregations over these last 13 years; one large, one medium, and one small. However, on Easter, there were always more people than normal and I was always excited about the new folks who came along. Easter was a day of interest in church – but why doesn’t interest on this one day ever generate interest on all the other days?
All of this brings me to the need for fresh expressions of church. First, the many people going to Starbucks, sleeping in, or eating a tasty brunch on Easter morning should give us a clear signal on the one day we are supposed to attend church. We as a church generally do everything as well as we can, on Easter Sunday yet for many, our best is not all that compelling.
How then will we demonstrate and declare the gospel to the increasing number of people who just won’t come to church? The answer is nothing short of cultivating creative communities of faith – right where people are – in the midst of their life. One of the ways we like to say this is “putting the church that Jesus loves close to where the people Jesus loves actually are”. A slightly more theologically- oriented way of expressing this task is to become church for them, among them and with them, and under the Spirit of God to lead them to become church in their own culture. Of course this means that the shape and form of church is going to look and feel different than many of our inherited expressions. But we need both forms—inherited expressions and fresh expressions working side by side.
Second, the many people attending church on Easter who rarely attend at other times are not too different from the people who are sitting at Starbucks on Easter morning. They too need an expression of church with genuine followers of Jesus that is close to their life so that they might actually enter into the life of the kingdom.
If there ever was a day in our Christian story that should give us the kind of permission we need to explore the development of new expressions of the body of Christ it should be Easter. N.T. Wright writes that on Easter a “new creation and a new world order was inaugurated that launched a new expression of God’s kingdom project in this world.” And within that project, the community of faith centered on Jesus came into being. It looked both similar to and different than the ways those early followers of Jesus had known to express their faith together. The heart of fresh expressions lies at the heart of the genesis of the church. So, in this Easter season, let us imagine anew what the Church of Jesus looks like that takes seriously the missionary call for every person, every place and every church.
Chris Backert serves as National Director of Fresh Expressions US. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Working with church leaders to develop new expressions of Christian community is the passion of Chris’s life. In addition to his role as National Director of Fresh Expressions US, he serves with the Baptist General Association of Virginia the area of church planting and serves as the Director & Organizational Architect for Ecclesia, a national network of missional churches. Previously, he served as pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, a large university congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia. Chris holds a D.Min. in Missional Church Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with wife Rachel, daughter Elliana and son Jase. ￼