It’s one of my favourite times of year – Easter planning time! A number of years ago, we decided that we wanted Easter to be the most memorable day of the year at MHBC, one that is remembered as a true day of celebration. (Also, I am sort a “go big or go home” sort of personality, and let’s just say that when it comes to Easter: I never go home).
But every year as I start to brainstorm, the same thing happens as I browse the internet for some new ideas. It seems, to me, that the ideas are either: 1. Not that interesting, or original (Example: “Do an egg hunt!”) or, 2. Completely unattainable for the average small church. The ideas are geared to mega churches with big budgets and we simply couldn’t do them.
This year I got to wondering if there were other small-ish churches like ours who might want some ideas for making Easter a big celebration just like us, and I thought I would share some of the things that we have done and invite you to steal any of these ideas that you like. (Full disclaimer here: I know some of you have churches where these may not work – we are a pretty laid back place – but there are lots of simple things here that I think even the most formal church can incorporate).
As churches, we often decorate for Christmas, so why not Easter? There can be a lot of impact when people walk into a place that has clearly been made special for a special day. Usually our decorating fits with themes that we have been following since lent.
Start with Joy
Start your service with joy and excitement! Here are some simple things that we have done:
- Covered windows in black panel cloth on Good Friday, which we tore down at the start of the Easter service (this is a common practice for many churches at Easter). One year, for each panel we had come down, we had someone say “He is Risen!” in a different language.
- As the service started, someone at the back yelled: “I have good news!” They then walked down the centre aisle reciting the Easter story, which they had memorized.
- We placed a plastic egg under each chair, with a small chocolate egg inside each one and a slip of paper that either said “He is risen” or “He is risen indeed.” At the start of the service, we invited people to open their eggs, enjoy a chocolate, and then find someone with the opposite message to them to share this traditional Easter greeting!
Skits and Children’s Stories
I have written more skits and puppet plays for Easter than I can count, and the goal of all of them is to get people feeling the joy of Easter Sunday. Three examples:
- A skit about a candy store that was selling “Easter chocolates” – only thing was the chocolates were actually traditional candy, but the “owners” (we actually used puppets for them) shared what made them Easter chocolates. Example: An aero bar, because Jesus points the way to God, and Rolo bars, because the stone was ROLO-ed away. At the end of the service, we gave out all the chocolate bars
- A skit featuring people trying out to be the Easter bunny. Each of them had various skills they were sure would make them the perfect Easter bunny – the final test came when they had to answer WHY we celebrate Easter (turns out they needed the kids from church to help them answer that one!)
- A skit with various super heros trying to figure out WHY THE TOMB WAS EMPTY. It began with Batman and the Riddler, and gathered more heroes, each trying to answer the question (“Riddle me this Batman…why was the tomb empty?”). It ended with me coming out as Wonder Woman. We did this for a children’s story, but, as you can imagine, the adults did some laughing too.
- We invited a number of our children ahead of time to prepare a clean, appropriate joke. Our youth pastor got up in a clown costume and asked them all to think of why she was dressed that way for Easter. She explained an old tradition of telling jokes on Easter Monday, to remind everyone of the joke that was played on Satan when Jesus rose from the dead. Then each of the kids shared their jokes, and everyone joined in the fun.
- We got the kids to play a game of “What’s inside?” We had a series of slides with pictures and asked the kids to guess “what’s inside?” (A bear cave, a nest, etc). The last slide was the tomb and of course the answer was – NOTHING!
(If you want the scripts for any of these, contact me!)
And by the way, for Easter – keep the kids in! Having the whole family together makes the service special and exciting! It also means no teachers need to miss celebrating Easter, either.
Make Music Special
I said that sometimes those big musical numbers you see online seem like too much. But you can make music special at Easter in other ways. A few of our faves were:
- White Flag, by Chris Tomlin: As the song progressed, we had more and more people come out carrying white flags to wave. At the end a large white flag came down the centre aisle. Then we gave everyone small pieces of white cloth to wave their own flag (the service ending with white streamers being thrown off the loft) – it was a powerful experience!
- You’re Beautiful, by Phil Wickham: We had a small choir come down the centre aisle to sing the “ohs” in the background. At the end, when it sings about arriving on the heavenly shore, we had kids run down the aisles with streamers. I still get teary when I think about it.
- Christ Is Risen from the Dead, by Matt Maher: There is a spoken word online, which we got someone to incorporate into the song
Last year I asked people to save me their LOSING roll up the rim coffee cups from Tim Horton’s (so this is one just for Canadians!). Ahead of time I turned them into a large cross. I talked about the ways we experience disappointment in life – like rolling up a Tim Horton’s cup and losing – again. I shared how the disciples must have been so disappointed when the thought that Jesus had basically said: “Play again.” Then I talked about what the cross means and how Jesus takes all those disappointments there. The disciples though they had lost with Jesus – but turns out when the stone was rolled away – they had won!
Another year I talked about the way we leave flowers at graves when people die. I brought in 200 carnations, and laid them across the front of the church. At the end of the sermon, I invited people to come and PICK UP a flower, as a reminder that DEATH HAS NOT WON. Simple, but powerful.
Another year, we made a large sign that said “King of the Jews” (like the sign that was placed on the cross). People then came up and added their name to the sign, symbolizing he was king of THEM.
Throw Stuff. Drop Stuff. Wave Stuff.
- Given out “poppers” (available at Party City) to each of the kids to explode at the end of the service (why not everyone? Just because they were expensive. If I had time to order them in bulk, I would have had some for all! Note: Consult custodian before giving out 50 poppers full of confetti. They appreciate that).
- Thrown streamers from our loft at the end of the service.
- Done balloon drops (if you don’t have a height to throw balloons from, just tossing out balloons as people bounce them around works great too!)
- Dropped small Jesuses attached to parachutes that say He is Risen! (Even I admit these were a bit much but they were so HILARIOUS we could not even resist!)
- Another year, people had a chance to take hymns from old hymnals that were ready to be tossed, and created flags from them with straws and tape. We talked about God turning old things into new. We waved the flags.
(Let me say, that if you usually don’t do things like this, a simple throwing of balloons at the end of the service can be a huge and special memory!)
Celebrate together as a church family after the service. Things we have done in this time include:
- Bringing in a cotton candy machine
- Had special treats prepared by our hospitality team
- Face painting for the kids
- Balloons animals for the kids
- We always have a special spot where people can take photos with their family or friends
Listen, I know some of you are going to say. This doesn’t sound very REVERENT. This sounds very SILLY. But I like the saying “the medium is the message.” Jesus is alive! He rose from the DEAD! The world has CHANGED!! Why shouldn’t we celebrate and have fun on Easter? To me, the celebration embodies the joy of the greatest message of all time. And these celebrations can happen in churches of any size.
Here are some ideas of things we have done for Holy Week services.
- Created a large painting as a church using the handprints of everyone from the church to make a “crown” (thank you to the pastor that I now forget that told me this idea years ago). We painted a large canvas a simple purple ahead of time, and then had brown paint (and hand wipes) which people dipped their hand in, before adding their print to to a circle on the canvas to create a crown. We added the words “king of kings.” This was for Palm Sunday. We still use this piece of art!
- Taking a day and night during Holy Week to “cleanse the Temple.” I had handouts for each person that came in with a reflective reading about Jesus cleansing the temple. Then we had a list of jobs needed around the church. Throughout the night people took time to reflect as they literally “cleansed the temple.” (Bonus: the church was cleaner for Easter! Downside: I was left cleaning the fridge. It was THE MOST DISGUSTING EXPERIENCE EVER. There was milk that was so curdled I needed to use a knife to cut it up to get it down the sink. When I was done, I declared: “It is finished.”)
- We had stations set up on Maundy Thursday following a potluck that were family friendly. They included: a station with dolls and bins of water, where people could “wash the feet” of the dolls as they remembered the story of Jesus washing feet, a station with a small plastic stool, on which people could write examples of injustices that made them angry and then “turn the table” as they flipped over the stool, a “garden” station with a cup where people could write on small pieces of paper things they wished they didn’t have to deal with in the cup, as they reflected on Jesus’ prayer in the garden
- For Good Friday, we have had various versions of hikes and walks. We have met for church wide hikes, where we each take turns carrying a small wooden cross as we remember what Jesus did for us. We also have met prior to the Good Friday service for a quiet prayer walk around our neighbourhood, ending at the Good Friday service.