The two-legged creatures sprinted randomly, torn by the lure of pony rides, a petting zoo, Easter eggs, bounce house and rock wall, trampoline jumps, face-paintings and cotton candy. Which way to head first? For most of these little people it was the first foray away from home in a year.
Spring fever hovered in the warm air.
On the other end of the field, a 10-year-old boy sat in front of the stage watching Blossom the bear puppet learn about the resurrection story. The child was memorized, paying no notice to little voices squealing in the distance. At the end of the skit he turned to the woman at his side.
“Mom, I didn't know Easter was about God and His love and Jesus resurrecting from the dead,” he declared.
Sherwood Patterson—lead pastor of Quest Church in Alpine, which hosted its first-ever Easter carnival on April 3—smiled as he absorbed the conversation.
“We know that Easter is not about eggs and bunnies,” the pastor said. “But we want to do whatever we can to reach people and families who are far from God. The Easter carnival gave us an opportunity, a platform, a vehicle for which to draw people to the living hope of Jesus Christ.”
That dialogue between boy and mom, he pointed out, underscores the need for Christians to share the love of Christ in their community, which is at the heart of Quest’s mission to Reach, Teach and Launch.
“The very fact that, in our culture and day and age, that children don't know Easter is about God and Jesus—and death on the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—just shows me how much work the church has to do in sharing and proclaiming this Good News to people.”
While the need is great, it starts with just one.
“I can't help but imagine the seed that was planted in this boy's heart, and the opportunity for him to respond in the quietness of his own heart through the invitation,” Patterson said.
To create a space for spiritual invitation, Quest first started with simple invitation cards promoting the Easter weekend trifecta: a sunset Good Friday service, the Saturday carnival and an Easter morning worship celebration. Members passed the invites out throughout the community, resulting in 1,700 in person attendance over the three days, 1,200 alone for the carnival, in addition to 1,521 online attendance. More than 200 served as volunteers.
The theme for the weekend was Living Hope and all of the activities—each with a gospel touch point—were held on a large, grassy field on the church campus.
“We just really focused in on the hope of Jesus, and felt that really addressed the emotional, spiritual, psychological needs of individuals, families and children,” he said. “We wanted to dedicate an entire weekend to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and proclaim that living hope for our community.”
The power of an invite
One of the church’s teens joined the publicity effort, giving away an invitation to one of her classmates, who put it in her backpack. Eventually it found its way inside the pantry at her home, where Mom found it. Intrigued by the offerings, Mom decided to bring her household, and then invited five other families – three struggling through divorce and one grieving the loss of a close family member.
“Because of this one little invitation six families came to the Easter carnival and received the hope of Jesus, and experienced His love. That's pretty powerful,” the pastor said.
Quest’s use of social media also proved beneficial, drawing guests from all corners of San Diego and into Riverside County, with one family traveling 90 miles each way for the carnival.
“The pandemic has forced us to adjust our evangelism strategy,” he said. “We have reached more people with the gospel through social media than we ever could have without it. Jesus went to where the sinners were and in our culture, the broken, hopeless, and hurting congregate on social media. We intend to meet them there with the saving message of Jesus.
“When the church presents Jesus as the solution to the deepest needs of the human heart. It will draw people from 90 miles away or from 1,000 miles away,” he said.
Some of the response, Patterson believes, is the result of pent-up need in the wake of California’s extended coronavirus shutdown.
“It's interesting that the very time that people needed hope and needed Jesus and needed the gospel and needed healing from the church is the very time that the church closed its doors,” he said, adding the impressive turnout speaks to the “significant role that the church has in the community, to be a beacon of light and hope, to shine the light of Jesus Christ, and draw people to Him.”
Grateful to gather
Many of those attending the carnival expressed the same sentiment. San Diego resident Michelle Salle brought her four children, the youngest of whom haven’t been around other children since schools were ordered closed.
“They are getting ready to start school so I think that it's helping them prepare to be out with a lot of other kids,” she said. “We keep trying to think of other little things to do. There's only so much when they've lived here their whole life.”
Anakaren Colado, a resident of San Ysidro, said she drove her two children 30 minutes after seeing the event listed on Facebook. Like Salle, Colado’s children had been cooped up for months. In addition to the activities, the children were exposed to the resurrection message for the first time.
“They learned a lot about Jesus. I love them to learn more about the meaning of Easter,” Colado said.
That is music to Patterson’s ears.
“The gospel was a part of every element of the Easter carnival and Easter services— from the one-on-one conversations that people had with guests to the performances and presentations on stage, to the Bibles that were passed out, and the invitations for church services,” he said. “To see the involvement of the gospel was so powerful.”
The focus of the gospel carried over into Easter services that brought a clear message of living hope with a visual reminder of the resurrection of Jesus through multiple baptisms. Flanked by her parents on stage and supported by 8 extended family members in the congregation, 7-year-old Minka joyfully declared her intentions for baptism.
“I want to tell the world that I accepted Jesus as my Savior.”
Summarizing Quest’s Easter weekend Patterson said, “As long as there are people far from God, we will continue to serve the spiritual and societal needs of our community through good deeds and the good news, until every home in our neighborhood hears the living hope of Jesus.”
Lori Arnold is a national award-winning journalist whose experience includes 16 years at a daily community newspaper in San Diego and 16 years as writer-editor for the Christian Examiner. She owns StoryLori Media and is a member of the Evangelical Press Association.