Wade Spees // The Post and Courier
Lindsay St. John, a 25-year-old Summerville resident, is going to church on Easter Sunday for the first time.
It's pretty easy to get worshippers into church on Easter Sunday. After all, it's the most important day of the Christian calendar, one that promotes many of the basic tenets of the religion.
Lindsay St. John is going -- for the first time.
"I've never been to church on Easter in my life," the 25-year-old Summerville resident said. "I don't go to church even. I just thought I'd see what all the fuss is about."
There certainly will be a lot of fuss.
Sanctuaries today are certain to fill up, perhaps overflow, with the faithful eager to partake in the traditions and ceremonies that help define their identity.
Extra seating will be set up, extra parking arranged, spillover spaces secured. Some churches will schedule additional services. Others will broadcast the proceedings on their websites.
And when it's all over? What will become of the churchgoers who came and went? Will the regulars say, politely, it was all very nice while it lasted?
Some local pastors said that Easter, with its message of Christ's victory over death, provides churches an opportunity to show themselves to the community and prompts them to follow up with worshipers, find new disciples and employ new ideas that spark interest.
The Rev. Gary D. Phillips of John Wesley United Methodist Church in West Ashley said his staff is printing twice as many bulletins as usual this week in anticipation of the influx. Off-site parking has been arranged for church members "to make room for our company," he said.
"My task ... is to create some sort of insert that will go into the bulletin that will talk about worship experiences during the month of May, so we can say, 'Here is what you will miss if you are not back,' " Phillips said.
On Sunday, the children of the church will present a musical, to be followed by an outdoor picnic replete with a jumping castle meant to be highly visible from Savannah Highway. Hopefully that will attract some attention, he said.
On the first Sunday evening of May, John Wesley United Methodist Church will hold a U2 Eucharist -- yes, that's right, a holy communion set to the music of the Irish rock band U2. (This is not as strange as it might seem, Phillips said. It's been done by other churches, and the band has embraced the idea.)
At St. Matthew Baptist Church on Reynolds Avenue in North Charleston, there will be a lot of hoping and praying going on, the Rev. Clinton Brantley said. For the best bait is the Christian message of salvation itself, he said.
"Hopefully people will believe it," Brantley said. "The world is in turmoil. People come (to church) because it's traditional."
The key, he said, is to cultivate disciples who in turn can share the message with others.
But don't think his church relies only on prayer. After-school programs are designed to help families and bring people to the church.
The involvement of children in the life of the church often leads to the involvement of parents, Brantley noted.
Once a month, the St. Matthew evangelistic team is deployed in the neighborhood, looking for people open to the message of the church. And then there's the follow-up, Brantley said. Visitors are encouraged to leave contact information with the church so staff can reach out and invite them back.
At St. Timothy's Anglican Church in West Ashley, the Rev. Frederick Bentley said he doesn't wait until Easter to reach out.
"We make an effort to contact people and encourage them to come to church," Bentley said. "Easter is the jewel of the year."
The days preceding that Holy Sunday are critical.
"One of most important things about Easter is the week leading up to it," he said. During Holy Week, which commemorates Jesus' experience in Jerusalem during his final days of his earthly life, St. Timothy's, like most other churches, focuses on the betrayal of Jesus, the Last Supper, the Stations of the Cross and the crucifixion on Good Friday, among other things.
The best way to ensure people come to church -- and keep coming to church -- has less to do with the perks and amenities and more to do with the biblical message itself, Bentley said.
Besides, he said, what faithful Christian can fail to be moved when, after the long silence of Lent, the church bells sound in celebration of everlasting life?
St. John said that while she's no fan of organized religion, she's pretty spiritual and open minded. The Resurrection has never meant much to her.
"Easter's not a religious holiday for me, it's about candy and bunnies and eggs and pastel colors," she said on Friday. But this year she planned to join a friend at Second Presbyterian Church.
"Lately, I just wanted to do some different things, more positive things," St. John said. "I want to surround myself with positive things."