Columbus area congregations reach out to infrequent churchgoers

John McMorran stood in front of his home watching his grandchildren while members of Rivertown Church distributed pastel-colored plastic eggs throughout his neighborhood. Inside each egg was an invitation to the church's Easter services, but McMorran said he wasn't sure if he would attend.

"I got no problem with church," he told the Rev. David Rathel, pastor of the Rivertown Church at 6953 Schomburg Road. "I just feel like a hypocrite. If you don't go every Sunday and do everything, and you got people who just go to church on Easter and Christmas, that's what they call them."

The pastor said he had heard that concern a million times.

"Come on, one more won't make a difference," Rathel said with a chuckle. "We're all hypocrites in a way."

Today is Easter, one of the busiest days on the Christian calendar. Many churches such as Rivertown consider it an opportunity to reach the unchurched, a term commonly used to refer to people who are unaffiliated with a congregation. Some churches have gone door-to-door inviting their neighbors to Easter activities. And many have tailored their services specifically for visitors who only show up once or twice a year.

Local ministers said some people jokingly refer to occasional churchgoers as CEOs, for "Christmas and Easter Only." Others call them CMEs, for "Christmas, Mother's Day and Easter." But whatever the moniker, those are the people they hope will show up to church today to hear a message of sacrifice, love and redemption.

The Rev. Marlon Scott Sr. is pastor of Emmanuel Christian Community Church at 2423 Woodruff Farm Road. He said his congregation has been praying and encouraging members to invite people in the community to their 10 a.m. Easter service. Visitors who attend will receive devotionals and religious pamphlets. Children will get Easter baskets.

Scott said church attendance usually triples on Easter, Christmas and Mother's Day, and he looks forward to the crowd.

"Some may condemn people for just coming on those few days," he said. "But pastors like myself, we are glad to see those people and we target them just to share the love of Christ with them. And it's an opportunity for a relaunching of their faith."

Scott said there's something about Mother's Day, Christmas and Easter that pulls on the heart strings of people and motivates them to rekindle their relationship with Christ. He said Mother's Day draws a big crowd "because for most people it's that mom or that grandmom who was the stalwart at church and so many people have fond memories of that time.

"Maybe it's because some people know that their mothers had a lot of faith and maybe that's a way of giving them a gift as well," he added.

The Rev. L. D. Skinner is senior pastor of Bread of Life Christian Center at 4510 Oates Ave. He said his church members went into the neighborhood last week to invite neighbors. The church has also run TV commercials over the years and encourages church members to bring their friends and relatives.

"We know that many people are going to church on Easter Sunday who traditionally won't be there the next Sunday and weren't there the previous Sunday," he said. "In other words, if you're going to church, then come to our church. The buzz is already in the air, so we want to be proactive in the frontend and invite them before someone else does."

Those who come to the service will find a program planned especially for them, Skinner said.

"We try to target first-time churchgoers and infrequent church attendees," he said. "The message is quite naturally centered around Christ (and) then you put in the love element about all he has done for us and his vicarious death, then we speak mostly about the resurrection and how people can have resurrection in their lives."

Cascade Hills is expecting such a big Easter crowd that they've moved their Easter services to the Columbus Civic Center this year.

Butch Jordan, the church's operations manager, said Cascade Hills had four services last year to accommodate a crowd of about 7,000 to 8,000 people. The congregation, which usually averages about 3,000 people at three services, decided to just have one big service at 11 a.m. today, and they hope to attract about 9,000 people.

At the same time, the church will have special activities for children at their church building at 727 54th St.

Jordan said there are many reasons why people attend church on Easter more than other days of the year.

"Some people may understand what Easter is about from Good Friday on through, but some of it is tradition," he said. "They may have heard about it as a child or were actually going to church regularly or (sporadically). And some may come with their families to get out of the dog house and stay in the good graces at home."

Jordan said evangelism will be a big part of the Easter service, and the church makes no apologies.

"This is the purpose of what we do, bottom line," he said. "It is to expose people to Christ and that there's a better alternative out there. Our job here is to reach the unchurched. That's our mission and vision totally.

"We're not about taking people from other churches and trying to bring them here," he said. "That's not what we do, that's not our intent. Our intent is to reach the lost. And that is the mission and the vision of Cascade Hills Church."

At Rivertown Church, the theme of the day will be "Color Me Easter." Activities will begin at 7 a.m. with a traditional sunrise service and culminate with 10 a.m. worship on the church lawn. In between, there will be an omelet breakfast, helicopter egg drop-off and egg color war (similar to Color Me Rad).

But Rathel said the Easter activities are not about "wowing" people but just trying to get them to church.

"I really don't believe in that consumer approach to put on some special thing so they'll come," he said. "Because if that's your whole approach, then what are you going to the next week to top it?"

He said Easter is about Christ's death, resurrection and the power of the Gospel to transform people's lives.

"The apostles and the people were dejected, rejected and running for their lives, and the Messiah that they thought was dead is alive," he said. "So we should pull out all the stops. We should spend our resources. We should make it the biggest absolute huge celebration that anyone would want to celebrate.

"It's nice when people come out for Easter," he added. "But it's much moreso about what they are going to do the next week and the week after that."

Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.