By Chris Moon
As worship life continues to change because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Restoration Movement churches now are faced with putting together one of the most significant worship services of the year—Easter Sunday, April 12.
Some churches are letting the online-only worship experience drive their creativity. Others are carefully modifying their long-held Easter traditions to accommodate this time of social distancing (a relatively new but suddenly pervasive term for encouraging people to deliberately increase the space between one another to avoid spreading the virus).
Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colo., is planning a 30-minute Easter video production that will be released on Easter Sunday. It will feature lead pastor Arron Chambers teaching at several locations in northern Colorado.
“We’re trying to think out of the box,” Chambers told Christian Standard.
For the past 10 years, Journey Christian Church has held its Easter service in a local civic center with thousands of people in attendance. That’s not happening this year. Colorado residents are under a statewide stay-at-home order.
Chambers said church staff considered what might be a good replacement for its typical Easter service in an age of online preaching and teaching. A high-quality Easter show was the idea that rose to the top.
Chambers said he will teach from Hebrews 12. In the video, he will explain how today’s believers are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses.” For that part of the lesson, Chambers will teach from empty bleachers at a local high school.
“We feel so alone right now,” Chambers said of this time of heightened concern over spreading the virus. “But we’re not alone.”
During another part of the video Chambers will be at a local cemetery, where he will discuss the death and resurrection of Christ. Another scene will be filmed at a garden as Chambers encourages people not to grow weary and lose heart.
“The big idea is Jesus changes everything,” he said.
The Easter video is something the church that averages about 900 weekly wants to produce to such a quality that members will be encouraged to share it with their friends—and that will give it a longer “shelf life” than a typical sermon, Chambers said.
Part of the motivation for Journey’s Easter presentation is the fact so much preaching is available online right now. Chambers said the church’s Easter video is being designed to stand out.
The high-quality production, of course, will stretch the church’s media team.
“We are upping our game for this,” Chambers said. “Typically, we do good stuff anyway, but this will be of higher quality.”
Chambers said some folks from his congregation who do such things professionally are chipping in with their expertise.
He said the church has been encouraging people to take pictures of their families while they watch each Sunday service and to post those pictures to social media. Children have been encouraged to draw pictures related to the Sunday messages or sermon illustrations and to post those as well.
That will continue at Easter. The church, Pitney said, normally sets up a photo booth on Easter for families to have their pictures taken—all dressed in their Easter best. This year, families will be asked to dress up on Easter at home and to post a family picture to social media.
The church that typically averages about 900 weekly wants to make sure people stay connected.
“I don’t know if it’s as much about content as keeping people engaged,” Pitney said. “Connection is more important than content, actually.”
Another Easter-related tradition at Vail Christian takes place on Palm Sunday when the church typically has several baptisms. The church still will have those baptisms on Palm Sunday. But it will video them, along with the stories of each of the five people being baptized. Those videos will be shown on Easter Sunday.
Pitney said Vail Christian has tried over the years to resist the pressure to go over the top with its Easter services. Visitors on those Sundays should be shown how the church normally operates, he said. That won’t change this year.
“Were not feeling the pressure that it’s got to be overwhelmingly produced,” Pitney said.
KEEPING THINGS SIMPLE
Rick Raines, senior minister of Fairmount Christian Church in Mechanicsville, Va., acknowledged Easter can carry with it a measure of excitement within the church. He called it a “Super Bowl feel.”
But Raines said he prefers to keep things in perspective.
“You know, we’re also sobering ourselves,” he said. “We do this every week. So there’s not this sense of we are missing something. We celebrate the resurrection every week.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Fairmount Christian Church has been broadcasting two pre-recorded worship services each week—a traditional service and either a blended or contemporary service.
The church will continue doing that on Easter.
“Simplicity is best,” Raines said.
Fairmount Christian—which averaged 1,363 weekly in 2018—has had a long tradition of having a “living cross” on Easter. The church erects wooden crosses at each entrance of its building Easter morning that congregants decorate with flowers when they come to the worship service.
“People love it,” he said. “It’s this gorgeous display of flowers.”
The church has considered having people drop off flowers for staffers to put onto the crosses on Easter. But that doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, Raines said.
“No one will get to enjoy it,” he said. “We will do it on the first Sunday when we’re back, whenever that is.”
And so for Fairmount, the traditional joys of Easter morning will be postponed until the church next gathers in person.
“We were adamant about that,” Raines said.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.
(How has your church changed its Easter plans because of the coronavirus? Please share a comment at the end of this article or write us at [email protected].)