Why Easter Doesn’t Usually Connect with Unchurched People (And How to Change That)

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empty tomb at easter

Chances are there will be far more people attending your church this weekend than normal.

And chances are a good number of them normally don’t go to church.

What’s so sad is that many unchurched people will walk away from the most powerful story ever told unchanged, and unaffected, and they won’t be back (until next year…maybe).


That’s a great question, and the good news is once you know why, you can do something about it.

Yes, It’s Spiritual, But It’s Also Practical

You could say that the reason unchurched people leave holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday largely unchanged is because God hasn’t opened their hearts. Or that they’re just closed off. Or that it’s all up to God anyway.

And there might be some truth in that.

But the reality is that some churches will be more effective at retaining unchurched people because they’ve figured out what the greatest challenge with major Christian holidays is:

It’s familiarity.

Unchurched people know the Easter (and Christmas and Good Friday) story. They just don’t care. 

Many unchurched people know the story of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. They just don't care. That's why the way you do your church service matters so much. Click To Tweet

3 Things Unchurched People Think About Easter

While I don’t think you can poll peoples’ thought patterns, I think you can pick up on them. If I had to guess what unchurched people are thinking when they walk into the room on a major Christian holiday, here’s my guess.

Here are three thought patterns I think I’ve met over and over again in the people I’ve talked to:

The Sentimentalist: “I love this story and I think they did a great job telling it. It almost makes me cry every year. And I will walk away completely unchanged by it.”

The Never-Read-My-Bible-But-I’m-Spiritual-Anyway Person: “Interesting service. I get the story. I just have no idea why Jesus came, why he died, or why it matters that he rose again. I have my own beliefs. Good for these people.”

The Cynic: “Yes…I know what this is about…I can’t believe I had to come here (but my girlfriend/wife made me)…how long is it going to be before they let out of here?”

So, what do you to reach people like these (and others) in your church on a big weekend like Easter?

Too many unchurched people will cry at the message of Good Friday and Easter, yet will walk away completely unchanged by it. Why? Click To Tweet

Don’t Just Talk About the ‘What,’ Talk About The ‘Why’

When the plot line is widely known, people come in expecting us to say certain things (Jesus was born, Jesus suffered, Jesus died). There is no element of surprise to the story. No one is caught off guard.

And that’s where a lot of us stop with our service planning for the holidays: We tell the ‘what’ as loudly and as powerfully as we can.

But even in post-modern, post-Christian Canada (where I live), most unchurched people know the basic Christmas and Easter story (Jesus came and died and allegedly rose again…they would say.)

The problem is, then, they already know the what. It’s like knowing how a movie ends before you begin watching it; the suspense is gone.

You’re doing exactly what unchurched people expect you to do, but it leaves them unaffected.

That’s why it is so critical for church leaders to tell more than just the what.

You need to tell them the so what. You need to tell them why. 

3 Things ‘Why’ Does

‘Why’ is such a powerful motivator. As Simon Sinek has rather famously pointed out, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

‘Why’ does at least three things:

1. ‘Why’ establishes relevance

People don’t automatically listen to what. But they do listen to what if it’s relevant.  

It’s like this: I live an hour north of Toronto but listen to Toronto radio. I hear all the traffic reports, but I live far enough north of the city that they really don’t bother me.

So, instead of hearing the traffic report, I hear, “blah blah blah blah.”

But the weather report? I tune in like a laser because we pretty much have the same weather patterns as Toronto. 

I’ve developed a relevance filter. I care about what impacts me, not just what happens. Not saying that’s good…I’m just saying that’s true. I listen to the “what” when I understand the “why” it’s relevant.

2. ‘Why’ motivates

People will do extraordinary things if they know why they matter. They will get up at 4 a.m. and spend ridiculous amounts of money to drive their kids to football, hockey, or soccer practice.

They’ll radically change their diet and lifestyle if the doctor tells them a heart attack is months away if they don’t change.

They’ll completely change their plans to be with someone they love if they get a chance.

People change what they do when they learn why it matters.

3. ‘Why’ is personal

‘Why’ establishes relevance and motivates because ultimately a well-explained why connects the person to the what in question.

Just watch what happens when someone thinks you’re telling them that a girl they care about is in love with someone else and you have to clarify, “No, you don’t understand, she’s in love with you.” Game-changing, isn’t it?

Naturally, that IS the story of Good Friday, Easter, and even Christmas. It’s the story of the Gospel. This isn’t just historical or logical…it’s personal. Underscore the why and people connect better.

How to Connect With Unchurched People

Here’s the most important task for all of us on big Christian holidays when it comes to reaching unchurched people: Focus on the why, and people will often respond to the what.

I understand not everyone will, but you’ll be surprised at the difference it will make for some.

So as you head into the most important weekend of the year, figure out why the message matters so urgently (it does), and you’ll connect with far more people.

Preachers: If you focus on the 'why', people will respond far better to the 'what.' Click To Tweet

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.