Easterfest is most definitely a magnificent event that draws people from all over the country and attracts artists from all over the world. It is also a triumph for the churches of Toowoomba – their unity and common heart for the gospel is impressive. So my struggle is not with the event itself, but with the fallout of the event back in Brisbane.
Anyone in local church ministry will tell you that if random people from the community are going to ever walk through the doors of a church, they are going to come at Easter and/or Christmas. So as a local church pastor I want the Easter services at my church to be the most welcoming, passionate and vibrant presentation of what the gospel, and the community that it creates, is all about. However, year after year local churches are forced to do this without a huge percentage of their keen, gospel-loving people and without pretty much all of their musicians. Just this year I was involved in 3 services across the weekend and the same guy had to worship lead at all 3; we planned a significant outreach event in our local community and could have done with the extra help; and I know of a major combined churches evangelistic event that attracts 12 000 people that was seriously undermanned when it came to volunteers.
Just to be clear I am not blaming Easterfest for this. In fact if anyone is to blame it is the local churches. I fear that local churches dropped the ball in terms of local evangelism at Easter many years ago. This left a huge void in the hearts of people passionate about the gospel and they sought to fill that void with Easter conventions and, over the last decade or so, Easterfest. The snowball effect is hard to ignore: the church became less active in evangelism at Easter, passionate gospel-lovers looked elsewhere for stimulation, which then made the local church less inclined to think creatively about local evangelism at Easter. It is now a huge effort to put on something intentionally evangelistic when you know you are going to be struggling to get the critical number of energetic people needed to make the event happen. In fact it has reached the point where it is almost pointless having a service on Easter Sunday night because so many people are away.
I know Easterfest has an evangelistic edge to it and I am totally supportive of the gospel being proclaimed faithfully at such events. But I think it is clear from the New Testament that God’s plan A for the gospelisation of the world is the local church. Planting local churches was at the very core of Paul’s ministry and when the Apostles wanted to pass on something to the general population of Christians they would write to the local churches or at the very least the leadership of local churches. Even in Revelation Jesus personally addresses local churches to communicate rebuke, encouragement and challenge. Local churches are supposed to be communities that visibly represent Christ on earth and bear witness to His gospel to all who they come in contact with.
Unfortunately I think the local churches in Brisbane have failed to even captivate the hearts of their own people with intentional gospel ministry at Easter, let alone the hearts of unbelievers. Why else are thousands of people getting out of Brisbane as early as Thursday night to drive for 2 hours in holiday traffic to go to a concert? Surely if there was the promise of passionate gospel ministry around their local church they might consider sticking around. But as it is they are packed and ready to go without even a second thought. So now the local churches feel awkward about asking their people to hang back from Easterfest to partner with them in the gospel.
So here is the point of this post: I would love to see local churches plan creative and intentional evangelism for Good Friday morning. Good Friday is the day on the Easter weekend that still holds the most traditional significance in Australian society and it is ripe for the picking. Then I would love to see people delay their trip to Toowoomba so that they can take part in the evangelism on Friday morning. We had a small group of young ladies do this for our Good Friday outreach this year and it was hugely appreciated!
Maybe I am asking too much. Maybe the snowball is too big and travelling too fast to stop. Maybe the local churches in Brisbane have lost our chance for evangelism at Easter. But one thing I do know is that Jesus is passionate about the local church and the people in whom He dwells are passionate about Him. So if we are bold enough to call them to contribute to something that proclaims this Christ in their own backyard, then we have a good chance of gradually seeing His passion for the mission of the church become their passion as well. Especially at Easter!