Converge churches opt for going deep, reaching beyond the building on Easter Sunday
Pastor & writer
Easter was only a few days away and Brady Gray, a Kentucky pastor, still hadn’t heard from God about how The Grove Church would worship that Sunday.
The church planter accepted there wasn’t time for overflow seating, online streaming and finely tuned worship sets. So, he waited and waited some more. With less than three days left, God told Gray to identify 12 moments between Palm Sunday and Easter.
Then, Gray wrote a central word about each event on a note card. Next, he invited the church’s family groups to his home for brunch and worship. Despite the seeming delay, God showed how they could keep pursuing Jesus within one authentic relationship at a time.
“Let’s play a game,” he said when Easter Sunday arrived. “I shuffled [the 12 cards] up and threw them on the ground in front of all our adults and kids.”
He challenged the group, which included new believers, people who don’t know Jesus yet and more experienced Christians, to put the 12 cards in chronological order. That proved challenging. But the next experience outdid the first.
“Let’s praise God and thank him for each ordained event from Palm Sunday to Christ’s resurrection,” Gray suggested.
Glorifying God for Palm Sunday or the resurrection came easy, as did some of the other 12 moments. However, the group struggled to thank God for Judas’ betrayal and the havoc he unleashed. That was when Gray knew the Lord’s plan would bear fruit.
He said during these prayer times and discovery-based discussions, people grow spiritually. Gray shepherds the theological conversations like bumper rails at a bowling alley. Such an approach allows people to wander within certain limits while still moving toward Jesus.
“God got people talking and thinking, which was a huge win,” Gray said of the deeper relationships and spiritual opportunities. “This is another affirmation of us spending time just walking through Scripture together, letting people ask questions.”
Bethany Baptist Church of Puyallup, Washington, also did something they’ve never done on Easter Sunday: the congregation gave $39,400 as a community impact offering to strategic partners in the city south of Seattle.
Pastor George Bedlion Jr. said more than 1700 people attended one of five services. What made this Easter worship stand out started in December when an anonymous, designated offering paid off the church’s building.
“So now we can actually give away a Sunday’s offering,” because there’s no mortgage, Bedlion said. “Every dime of it will go to strategic partners in Puyallup.”
That Easter offering will now support the Puyallup Food Bank and underprivileged students at two schools, including 12 moms with babies.
“It was a really great weekend,” Bedlion said about the worship, the people who came and the generous offering.
Easter creates deeper connections between God’s people
In Moorhead, Minnesota, pastor Steve Krier said Ignite Church had the most people in the building since they started 12 years ago.
Usually, fewer people attend Easter and Christmas worship than usual because of the church’s younger core.
They’ve grown through 10 years as a portable church, followed by two years of persevering through the pandemic. Ignite had 480 people on Easter and 180 at a Good Friday experience.
“We are starting to see significant traction,” Krier said. “We are now becoming the destination church for families.”
At Sylvan Way Church in Bremerton, Washington, Pastor Ian O’Meara observed people reconnecting and deepening their relationships after three years of disconnection. He said many people came to the church as an expression of returning to fellowship.
“What we’re celebrating is we saw a bunch of people who had been disconnected since COVID,” O’Meara said. “We forgot what it felt like to be in the presence of the body of Christ. That was a huge win for us.”
O’Meara recognizes the statistics of his region as one of the more unreached areas of America. Yet he sees God at work because the church’s neighbors, friends and family came. Sometimes, their desire to attend was spontaneous, while others came because somebody invited them.
“People are taking on that mission to try and reach others for Jesus,” O’Meara said. “It was the church as a whole saying, ‘We’re in this community, in this place for this time.’ That was the biggest God moment for me.”
‘They actually showed up’
That same God was working more than 3000 miles to the east, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as Bella Hayward-Mullett spoke to her fellow believers at Osterville Baptist Church. In this case, God’s direction came several weeks before Easter.
So, Hayward-Mullet, the church’s office manager and assistant director of student ministry, asked the Converge church one question on a Sunday morning: “Who do you want to invite to Easter?”
Then, as text appeared on the display screens, Hayward-Mullet encouraged the church to get out their phones. She told them to text the suggested invitation shown beside her so that person knows you’d like them to come here on Easter. Right then and there.
“People were faithful to invite, and people showed up,” said James Trevillian, the church’s pastor of administration and family discipleship. “In a space like New England that’s so unchurched, they actually showed up.”
Trevillian said this kind of emphasis is part of a missional shift at Osterville Baptist. For many years, the church has offered various ministry activities that drew people from across the Cape.
The church’s leaders are grateful and praise God for the ministry that’s developed in their region. But, at the same time, the congregation has realized they have less of an impact among their immediate neighbors than when the church began.
So these invitations and ministry activities now include a degree of intentionality to influence the village around them. That inspired a social media campaign through the church’s official channels, plus the believers’ posts and reposts about Easter worship.
“We’ve been seeing the impact of that slowly and surely,” Trevillian said.“We want to be intentional about our village.”
The invitations accomplished their goal as more than double the usual attendance came to Osterville Baptist. So now, the church can begin building those relationships with people who don’t regularly attend worship in Osterville.
“It was a very significant Sunday for us,” Trevillian said.“Each one of those numbers is someone that showed up and heard the gospel.”
The mission is better than the attraction
As excited and grateful as Brady Gray was after Easter, Palm Sunday might have been even better. Gray’s optimism isn’t because The Grove needed extra chairs or because he polished his sermon late into the night.
Quite the opposite: The church planter and his fellow disciples didn’t even worship together on Palm Sunday. Instead, The Grove Church rolled up to a party organized by Gray’s neighborhood association, a Kentucky community the disciples have decided to love and befriend.
On Palm Sunday, families from nearly 300 homes enjoyed the event, which included hundreds of hot dogs, a Blackstone griddle, tables and chairs, a professional-grade snow cone machine and giant yard games like Connect Four and Jenga. A 16-foot enclosed trailer stores everything, so The Grove can create memorable events across Bardstown.
The Grove team was delighted to make the time a joy for their neighbors and friends.
“My view of success, my measuring board for success, is vastly different than it has been in the past,” Gray said of the Palm Sunday party. “We were able to love people like Jesus loves them.”
That’s why The Grove’s next step is buying a bounce house for future fun that creates moments for authentic relationships.
“It’s just an opportunity, first and foremost, for our community,” Gray said. “I don’t even need to put anything up for The Grove. Let me bring some tools. Let me bring some people. Let’s do this right.”
Converge is a movement of churches working to help people meet, know and follow Jesus. We do this by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide.
Ben Greene, Pastor & writer
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.