By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
It's a phenomenon that regular church goers know well. If you visit a church on Easter Sunday, you'll see many faces that you won't see at that church again for many months, perhaps not until the following Easter. Though their visit might be brief, local pastors said the presence of people who only visit on Easter is appreciated nonetheless.
According to a report published last year by the Pew Research Center, church attendance in New Hampshire is declining, mirroring a national trend.
Andy Barnes, pastor at the First Baptist Church of Belmont, said typical Sunday attendance is about 58.
"We're hoping to see about double that," on Easter Sunday, he said. And, although the extra people might mean that the regular members of the congregation have to find a new pew to sit in, he said they won't mind.
"Our church is well-trained to receive visitors. They're looking forward to seeing new faces," Barnes said.
At Gilford Community Church, pastor Michael Graham said it's understandable that Easter would see a high attendance rate. He's noticed that attendance drops off in the first few weeks of January, then gradually recovers as Easter approaches.
"On a typical Sunday, we will probably have about 200 people," he said. "But as we get closer to Easter, our attendance goes up." He had 280 in attendance last week, and expects even more on Easter Sunday. It's easy for him to see why.
"There's beautiful music, palms, a lot of children," he noted. "They know their church will be at their best."
He added that most people remember attending church during Christmas and Easter, but don't remember as much about the services in between. So, those holidays hold a special nostalgic draw.
"It brings back good memories," he said.
Paula Gile has noticed a similar trend at Laconia Congregational Church, where she serves as associate pastor. Between 140 and 180 will attend one of the two services held each Sunday, but on Easter Sunday, she expects as many as 300. She is more than happy to welcome those whose visit to the church is rare.
"I think that people need to find God where they find God. I think they would do best to find God in a church family. I pray every day that people want to find the love of God and feel that joy, but if they feel that love elsewhere, that's OK, as long as they aren't hurting anyone else and are doing good in the world."
She added that all are welcome, whether they attended every other Sunday this year or only attend church twice annually.
"I am so thrilled that they're here for Christmas and Easter, and I hope they come maybe four times next year, so they can learn and worship in a church family." In a world that's filled with hate and anger, she said, "to come to a place where you can find love, grace, forgiveness, mercy and hope is what I hope for all people. And it's offered in our church family."
According to the Pew Research Center's report "America's Changing Religious Landscape," published in May of 2015, Americans are attending religious less often. In 2007, 39 percent of survey respondents across the country said they attended a religious service at least once a week, and 27 percent said they seldom or never did. In 2014, the percentage of respondents who said they attended services at least once a week had dropped by three points, and those who said they seldom or never did rose by three points.
New Hampshire, according to the Pew report, is less likely to attend a religious service than the rest of the country, and becoming even less likely. Of the survey respondents in New Hampshire, 24 percent in 2007 said they attended a service at least once per week, though that figure dropped to 22 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, respondents who said they seldom or never attended a service jumped from 37 percent in 2007 to 51 percent in 2014.
Jane Rollins and Sandra Stafford of the "flower committee" decorates Gilford Community Church with Lilies, Tulips and Hyacynths for the Easter Sunday services. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Sandra Stafford and Judy Robertson decorate Gilford Community Church with Lilies, Tuplips and Hyacynths for their Easter Sunday services. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
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