It’s Easter, and the church is full of first-time visitors who are there for no other reason than an omnipotent God has ordained it and some dear soul has invited them. This is truly a moment we should savor and not waste. With that in mind, let’s discuss a few statistics about these visitors in order to better connect with them.

According to Barna Group1, depending on age, only 48% to 56% of those visiting believe that Jesus is God. Though an average of 90% believe He was a real historic person, they are convinced neither of His deity nor that he was sinless.  Furthermore, fueling the skepticism of our unchurched crowd are three primary components: 1) rejection of the Bible, 2) a lack of trust in the local church and 3) the cultural reinforcement of a secular worldview. 

This information begs the question: what can we do in the 30 minutes we have to talk to this crowd? Thomas Guthrie, a great preacher from a former generation, said it well: “To convert my hearers was not within my power; but to command their attention, to awaken their interest, to touch their feelings and instruct their minds was, and I determined to do it.”

Here are a few practical suggestions to consider. 

  1. Do you really believe in the Gospel and the power of God to cut through doubt?  What does the resurrection mean and what difference does it make?
  2. Pray for the manifest power of Christ to invade the service and the Holy Spirit to confirm the message.
  3. Think about what will reduce confusion and make first-time visitors feel welcomed and wanted. Post signs and directions. Introduce speakers and leaders, and ask staff to wear nametags.
  4. Treat all with respect, and prepare the congregation to do likewise. A good question to ask before Easter is: are we prepared for 25+ guests?  Greeters and child care workers need to be trained and reviewed for proficiency.
  5. How up-to-date is your website?  Most visitors will check you out online before they attend.
  6. Be honest and be transparent in your sermon. Connect with their presuppositions, and speak the truth in love. As Carey Nieuwhof says, “I believe the most effective preachers in the future will be those who fuse the head and the heart in their preaching.”
  7. Have a meaningful worship experience that is about Christ, and keep announcements to a minimum. Be ready to give clear next steps for the interested.
  8. What will you do for follow-up? Since time is critical, it’s best to contact visitors within 36 hours. Personal contact is best. If you must email, keep your message warm and personal but brief (65 words or less) since most people will read it on smartphones.

Of all the suggestions above, the second is the one that will have the most lasting impact. When the power of God is present (typically brought on by a church that has been praying in faith) non-church members know it. This was evident on the day of Pentecost when all the people were “amazed and perplexed, saying to one another ‘Whatever could this mean?’” (Acts 2:12) and likewise in I Cor. 14:24-25 where the unbelievers acknowledged “that God is truly among you.”  In such an atmosphere charged with the presence of Christ, people can be awakened to the reality of a risen Savior.

In conclusion, Charles Taylor reminds us that “in the 1950s we lived in a culture of belief, and people were tempted to doubt—but in a secular culture [like we have today], it’s a culture of doubt, and people are tempted to believe.”   Truly, there is no message more provocative or amazing than the message of the resurrection.  I pray each visitor will leave your church knowing that they have been in the presence of God, and they heard something that tempted them to faith.

1 See Barna Trends 2017: What’s New and What’s Next at the Intersection of Faith and Culture, published Dec. 6, 2016, by Barna Group

Bruce James is the director of evangelism and church strengthening at the Baptist Convention of New England.