Easter definition increasingly hazy for many Americans

With Easter Sunday a little less than three weeks away, the Barna Group found that most Americans still affiliated the holiday with Christianity but there was a wide variety of responses of what it means.

About two-thirds of the 1,005 respondents in the free-response query described Easter as a religious holiday, with most responses indicating Christianity or the Jewish feast of Passover.

Somewhat strikingly, however, only 42 percent of respondents correctly linked Easter to a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Among a wide variety of non-religious responses were an event for children to have fun and the Easter bunny.

The three most likely groups to connect Easter to the resurrection were evangelicals, large church attendees and born-again Christians.

A majority of regular churchgoers said they would consider – to varying degrees – inviting a –unchurched friend or family member to church on Easter. One twist on the data, however, was that people were no more likely to invite someone to church whether their perception of the resurrection was a strict biblical interpretation or not.

Barna Group president David Kinnaman commented, “Perhaps most concerning, from the standpoint of church leaders, is that those who celebrate Easter because of the resurrection of Christ are not particularly likely to invite non-churched friends to worship, suggesting that their personal beliefs about Jesus have not yet translated into a sense of urgency for having spiritual conversations with their acquaintances.”

He added that the willingness to invite an unchurched person does not necessarily translate into an actual invitation or acceptance of an invitation. “Realistically, if all of the people who said they would bring unchurched people with them on Easter were to follow through, America’s churches couldn’t handle the overflow. The statistics project to something like 40 million church regulars who claim they are likely to bring someone as their guest. If each of those people brought just one adult as their guest, that’d be the equivalent of adding 115 new people per Christian congregation. That would more than double the size of the average church! That is clearly an over-estimate.

“But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that so many people are at least open to the idea of offering such invitations to their friends and family. One of the challenges to pastors and other church leaders is to find out what’s actually preventing them from following through on that willingness.”

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