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10 Tips on Preparing and Preaching for Easter
For most churches, Easter is the biggest Sunday of the year.
It’s an occasion to celebrate the resurrection and victory of Jesus Christ over Satan, sin, and death while also seeing lost sheep return home and lost people become Christians.
For some preachers, though, it’s a difficult time because they struggle with the weight and pressure of preaching an Easter sermon in fresh ways year after year and preparing their congregation to reach out into the community. Having now preached and prepared every Easter at Mars Hill Church since 1996, I relate with what you’re experiencing and have by God’s grace learned a few things over the years that I want to share with you today.
1. Make it all about jesus
Most importantly, your Easter sermon must be about Jesus because the proclamation of the gospel of the living Jesus is the power of God. When it’s unleashed, the Holy Spirit changes lives. Here’s a link to a list of Old and New Testament Scriptures regarding resurrection and a suggestion for a sermon topic. It’s by no means exhaustive, but is offered in hope of helping preachers and teachers find a section of Scripture in which to root their Easter sermon.
Here is a list of Easter-themed sermons for study:
Finally, the ninth chapter of Doctrine may be of some help to those who preach or teach, or simply want to study the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the chapter called “Resurrection: God Saves,” my co-author Dr. Gerry Breshears and I answer the following questions in a straightforward way:
· What is the resurrection?
· What were ancient non-Christian views of the afterlife?
· What is the biblical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection?
· What is the circumstantial evidence for Jesus’ resurrection?
· What is the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection?
· What are the primary ancient objections to Jesus’ resurrection?
· What has the resurrection accomplished for Christians?
2. Make it SPECIAL
For believers during the Old Covenant era, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was referred to simply as “the Day.” For Christians, the chain of events from Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday to his resurrection on Easter Sunday is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur. This makes Easter “the Day” for us.
To celebrate the Day, the entire Easter service should be special. Some examples of special aspects to incorporate are a greatly decorated stage, fantastic joyful songs to sing, and a choir. For more casual churches, such as Mars Hill, Easter is a day to dress up, as it’s a special occasion. Easter is also a great day to baptize people to show the personal application of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in our place for our sins.
On the Day, people are singing, crying, laughing, and cheering after the sermon. The celebration of changed lives erupts into something of a sanctified resurrection party.
I would encourage every pastor to do something similar.
3. Make it MOMENTUs
With Easter being a special day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s important to keep this day important by building up momentum for it.
At Mars Hill Church, we have been preparing for Easter for quite some time. With the recent post from our executive pastor, Sutton Turner, kicking off our public invitation to Easter, we will continue to build momentum for Easter through constant communication, through multiple mediums. I think this is an important point to make.
Think of it this way. How many times have you made an announcement of an event to the church that was then poorly attended and people came up to you afterwards, saying, “I didn’t know anything about it?”
Don’t expect just one announcement from the pulpit, one email or letter to the congregation, or one insert into your church’s bulletin to excite them for Easter. Build momentum for Easter by communicating to your church on a regular basis, using multiple means and methods.
Yes, the Holy Spirit can sovereignly move in the life of the congregation through just one message inspiriting them to new heights. However, this is the exception, not the rule.
According to an old marketing concept called the “rule of seven,” it can take someone up to seven times to hear the same message about something before committing. In other words, we need to be constantly communicating to the church for them to hear and act on our messages.
4. MAKE it SHORT
If you’re preparing to have a lot of non-Christians present on Easter, you have to keep in mind that many of them, if not most, are not used to focusing on one person speaking for a prolonged period of time. Apart from being immersed in an entertainment culture, which presents its own problems, people are becoming more and more accustomed to watching short videos on YouTube, reading content of 140 characters or fewer on Twitter, and being generally distracted by a host of media devices and smartphones.
With the focus and concentration of a laser, keep your message short and concise, focusing on introducing people to Jesus Christ.
For instance, I normally preach for an hour or longer on any given Sunday. However, my sermons on Easter the last four years have hovered just around 30 minutes.
5. MAKE IT “FAMILY STYLE”
Keeping in mind that it’s difficult to find children workers on Easter because so many of your key people want to bring family, friends, and coworkers to church and then go enjoy time with loved ones, so it’s sometimes wise to conduct the Easter service “family style” with no childcare—especially if you’re only having one service.
For little kids, perhaps some crayons and coloring sheets as gifts to occupy them during the service would be helpful. Let the parents know in advance that the service will be short, that some noise from the kids is welcome—indeed, the sound of children is a good sign of God’s grace and the church’s future—and that there will be lots of singing and celebration that the kids will enjoy.
6. MAKE it SIMPLE
Easter is not a time to get fancy. The goal of the Easter sermon is not to impress people with your oratory skills, your Greek syntax expertise, or your clever cultural insight. Easter is a time to boldly, loudly, passionately, gladly, and publicly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
So, keep your Easter sermon simple. Hearing the good news of Jesus is something your people will delight in if the Holy Spirit resides in them, so make it plain. They know you will tell them Jesus is alive, they are coming to hear it, and it sounds good every time, much like a wife whose husband often tells her he loves her and is devoted to her—she never tires of hearing it and rejoices every time.
7. MAKE it INVITATIONAL
Make sure to clearly, winsomely, persuasively, and passionately invite people to repent of sin and trust in Jesus as God, Lord, and Savior, during your sermon.
Do not assume that everyone in attendance is a Christian or that they will figure out salvation by themselves. Be an agent of the Holy Spirit who instructs people about the finished work of Jesus and what it means to repent of sin and trust in him for new life. Be bold, take a risk, and do the work of an evangelist like Paul commands.
8. MAKE IT INVITATIONAL
Yes. I said the same thing twice, because it’s important.
Not only should your sermon be invitational, your congregation should be encouraged to be invitational, too. Your congregation should be challenged to bring someone from their circle of influence, such as a family member, friend, co-worker, classmate, neighbor, or acquaintance at the gas station where they fill up.
With this said, I encourage you to challenge yourself and your congregation to pray and trust God for reaching a certain number of people within your community. At Mars Hill Church, we are praying for 20,000 people to be in attendance and a lot of baptisms. Though our pastors are hard at work in their various communities, for us to reach and influence this many people for Jesus requires the participation of the entire congregation to witness for Jesus.
9. MAKE IT PERSONAL
Those who are entrusted to preach or teach are often so busy that they miss out on deep encounters with God the Holy Spirit. In the week before you preach, you will be busy with all the details of services for Good Friday and Easter Sunday, plus the family plans you must juggle with your ministry responsibilities. So, intentionally set aside some sacred silence and solitude time to get with Jesus and remember his death, burial, and resurrection in place of sin for salvation. And make sure not to neglect making Easter special for your family with all the busyness of the season. Make sure your kids grow up loving the Easter season because their dad was as devoted to them as he was to the church.
10. be sure to follow up
When Easter is over, what’s your plan for follow-up?
Don’t let your countless hours of preparation go to waste. Keep your Easter message fresh. Remind people that Easter may be over, but Jesus is still alive. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you want to serve them by helping them learn and live for Jesus by getting involved with the ministry of your church, and encourage those who had someone new come with them to the service to help connect them with the church.
If you have informational cards for people to fill out with the name, address, and email. Prepare a team of volunteers before Easter to follow up with new visitors with a letter, email, call, or visit two to four weeks after Easter.
At Mars Hill, we’re fervently praying that Jesus is made much of on Easter Sunday, and that many people come to know him. I pray the same for you and your church.
For more tips from Pastor Mark on preaching, check out this post on 16 things he looks for in a preacher.