WASHINGTON – The weekend of Easter is a packed one for most churches, including National Community Church in Washington.
The growing theater church plans to set up carnival games, a petting zoo and egg hunt to draw families and the community in continuing a Capitol Hill tradition. About 1,500 kids showed up at last year's event at Lincoln Park.
"And, of course, we invite them to attend an Easter service if they don't attend church," says Pastor Mark Batterson, who leads the church.
Attending church on Easter Sunday is a tradition for Tracy Leatherman of Medina, Ohio, and her family. Leatherman is out with her two young daughters of 2 1/2 years and 15 months searching for the perfect Easter dresses, The Plain Dealer newspaper reported.
"We go to church every Easter, and I want them to look adorable," she told the local newspaper.
For Sally Russ, church is out of the picture in her family tradition. She used to host massive egg hunts in the yard but now sends Easter things to her grown kids in college by mail.
"It's definitely a secular celebration," she told The Houston Chronicle. "It was just all about the tradition for us and the ritual of it and the fun of it."
This year, Russ spent up to several hundred dollars on Easter purchases for her family. Easter candy sales are expected to top $1.8 billion this year, trailing only Halloween, reported the National Confectioners Association, a trade group of American candy makers, according to the Chronicle.
The National Retail Federation predicts the 80 percent of shoppers who celebrate Easter will spend an average of $135 this year, up 11 percent over last year. Overall, this Easter is expected to generate about $14.4 billion in sales, according to a BIGresearch survey.
And although families are getting together for the holiday, church isn't as important as it once was, Melba Carter, a member of Woodland Oaks Church of Christ in The Woodlands, told the Chronicle.
National Community Church's Batterson, who's hosting a Good Friday service at Ebenezer's Coffee House, owned by his church, says he's absolutely concerned about the commercialization of Easter. But he's a "both/and" thinker, he says, meaning he is for both Easter fun and church.
"I think we have fun on Saturday, but we really preach the core message on Sunday."
Batterson is preaching a series on "He Came. He Died. He Conquered." – messages that are at the core of what National Community Church believes. Along with a baptism Saturday night to symbolize the death and resurrection of Christ, the church will hold seven services in three locations on Easter Sunday.
Despite some families who might look forward to the Easter Bunny and egg hunts more than the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Batterson still expects higher attendance this Sunday.