Easter is the most important day on the church calendar. Not only is it the day Jesus won the victory over death, it’s the day more people become Christians than any other. I want to take full advantage of this once-a-year opportunity. So every year at this time, New Song begins what we call our “ramp-up for Easter.”
1. Launch a new series.
We start by developing the series we want to launch on Easter. For years, I preached a resurrection message and invited people to return for a new series the following week. But CEOs (“Christmas and Easter Only”) rarely come to church thinking they’ll return anytime soon, so we want to double their incentive by giving them the first helping of what they’ll receive if they come back.
Yes, I’ll explain the resurrection. Yes, I’ll invite people to receive Christ that day. But this year, I’ll be doing it in the midst of a message on Heaven Is For Real. Todd Burpo has a best-selling book by that title, so people are interested in it. During the four weeks post-Easter, I’ll preach on what heaven will be like and explain how to get there.
2. Give a free book.
Lots of unchurched people think of the church as stingy and irrelevant. I want to break that perception, so every year we give first time guests a free book. In the past, we’ve given gift editions of a book I wrote a few years ago called The God Questions. I’ll still offer that book from upfront to anyone who has questions about God.
Giving the free gift not only exceeds people’s expectations, it enables us to gather contact information so we can thank them for coming and invite them back.
3. An e-mail note.
In a church our size, it’s easy for guests to feel lost in the crowd. On the day after Easter, I’m going to e-mail them all, asking if there is anything we can pray for. I want guests to know that the church is more than a building they can come to; it’s a family they can belong to. Every guest who responds will be prayed for by our staff on Tuesday morning.
4. A hand-written note.
As the e-mails go out, I’ll also be hand-writing notes. I want every guest to know that the church is about relationships, not just programs, and that the pastor took time to write them personally. By the time I’m through, my hand will be cramped, and I’ll wonder if it was worth it. The note will give me a chance to minister personally. While I’m writing, I will pray for each guest by name.
5. A gift in the mail.
Along with my note, I’ll include a coupon for a free pizza. Few guests will expect this. As they open the letter, I’m hoping they’ll hear the Holy Spirit whisper, “Church isn’t what you thought it was. These people love you.”
6. Prayer cards.
Our best gift to our neighbors is prayer. Starting this weekend, I’ll ask our people to fill out prayer cards with the names of seven friends they’ll pray for and invite to Easter.
I’ll ask all New Songers to fill out two cards, one to keep and one to turn in, so I can pray with them for their friends. Nothing tills the soil of a human heart like prayer.
7. Prayer room.
During the weeks leading up to Easter, we turn our prayer room into a war room. Every card that’s turned in will be posted in the prayer room. We’ll feature 12 stations and ask people to fill up all 24 hours, praying for our community, praying for people’s friends by name, praying for our ministry teams, and other personal and corporate needs. Our prayer room serves double duty for us. It lifts our community to the Lord, and it teaches newer believers that it really is possible to pray for an hour at a time and not get bored.
8. Random acts of kindness.
Once we’ve begun praying, we want to pile on the love by serving our community in practical ways. Two weeks after we issue prayer cards, we put “RAK” (Random Act of Kindness) cards in our programs with a list of 150 suggestions of ways you can show tangible love to your neighbors.
One of our suggestions is “Pay for the coffee of the person in line behind you.” One year a New Songer did this, handing an RAK card to a Starbucks attendant. He asked her to give the card to the driver of the car behind him. As he was pulling away, a friend called and asked him to get her a coffee, so he pulled back into line. When he got to the attendant, he was handed his same RAK card. It had traveled through seven cars, each one paying for the person behind them. Jesus was right: give and it will come back to you!
9. Invite cards.
Once we’ve begun tilling the soil of our community with prayers and acts of service, we’ll start inviting people. A personal invitation is always best, so we print business card-sized invitations with the times of our Easter services on it. This year’s card will serve as a coupon good for one free copy of Heaven Is For Real.
We also make doorhanger invitations available for those who are willing to walk and pray through their neighborhoods. The doorhanger also serves as a coupon for the Heaven book.
11. Bumper stickers.
I used to hate bumper stickers. Not anymore. Last year, one of my genius staff members discovered a type of bumper sticker that peels off easily without leaving any glue. We purchased enough to give them to our people for the next several years. Their message is simple: “Easter at New Song.”
12. Yard signs.
A few years ago, we bought a batch of yard signs that read “Easter at New Song,” with our phone number on them. They look like realtor’s signs. I ask people to put one in their yard and return it the week after Easter. These are fun. Once they’re up, our office gets calls about the price of the house on such and such street.
13. Holding a Wednesday night service.
Easter is such a strategic opportunity that we don’t want to miss anyone. Some people will go out of town for the weekend. We offer a Wednesday night Easter service to catch them beforehand. People invite friends from work, and some of them receive Christ. Even if the crowd is small, it’s worth it.
14. Attend multiple services.
To take full advantage of this once-a-year opportunity, we ask everyone to attend more than one service. “This is the most important weekend on God’s calendar, so it ought to be the most important weekend on ours. Bring friends to at least one service, and serve during at least one service,” we say. Some people attend four or five.
15. Training a new team.
The excitement of a big day brings the opportunity to launch new ministry teams. I’ve gone old school recently. Instead of asking people to raise their hand to receive Christ, I invite them to come forward. This year, we’re launching an “Aftercare Team.” Their job will be to begin follow-up immediately following decisions at each service.
16. An incentive two weeks later.
During our Easter services, we’ll invite people back to meet Bethany Hamilton. Bethany’s movie, Soul Surfer, came out last year. People in our beach culture are dying to meet her. She’ll draw a lot of people to church who wouldn’t normally darken the doors. Some will be Easter returnees. We believe that that weekend will be one more step on the fruitful life path of many new believers.