Father Richard Eldredge includes a line in his Easter sermon that he doesn't regularly use.
"I say: 'If you have been away from the church, we welcome you back home. Please allow us to continue serving you,'" said Eldredge, who expects 6,000 people -- double the norm -- at today's service at Good Shepherd Catholic Community in Colleyville.
Easter is so spiritually and emotionally important to Christians that attendance will surge from 50 to 100 percent or more at churches across America today, local ministers say. They say it's important that the day's religious significance not be forgotten.
"Many times we get caught up in the glamour of what the world has portrayed of the Resurrection, as opposed to focusing on what led us to that point," said the Rev. Roy Elton Brackins of Grace Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Forest Hill. "That was the agonizing, humiliating and painful suffering that Jesus went through on the previous Friday."
Ministers recognize that it takes that kind of spiritual significance to draw some people to church. In certain circles, those people are known as CEOs -- Christmas and Easter Only.
Eldredge doesn't like that label.
"I'm not there to insult people," he said. "I want them to feel welcome. It's important for them to know that we're glad they're there."
Bob Roberts, pastor at NorthWood Church in Keller, said the Bible tells believers to attend church regularly if possible.
"Hebrews says, 'Don't forsake the assembling of yourselves together,'" he said. "That means the idea of getting together to worship. Worship is a core part, the primary function, of the church."
Roberts, however, believes that Jesus would not berate someone who attends only on Easter.
"Jesus would say, 'Man, I'm glad you're here,'" he said. "Jesus took what people were willing to give him."
The Rev. Katie Hays of Northwest Christian Church in Arlington agreed.
"Jesus would say, 'Welcome, friend, welcome,'" she said. "Jesus' arms are open wide to every person, whenever they come, for whatever reason they come."
On any Sunday at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church in Fort Worth, the Rev. Jennifer Innis said the people will range from those who have little spiritual connection with Scripture to those who are deeply connected to the symbolic resurrection of Jesus.
"Part of what Easter does is provide a chance to tell the stories across the whole theological range of the church," she said.
Dr. Jeff S. May of First United Methodist Church of Bedford said Easter is a special time when Christians show the world what they're about.
"A lot of times, a lot of folks think that Easter is just the church putting on a big show," he said. "Really it's just us trying to get the world to celebrate with us, whether they believe the same way we do or not."
No matter how people hear the story, Easter's message is meant to encourage a bond between people and God, Brackins said.
"I'd like to emphasize that the Resurrection represents the beginning of a new relationship with God through his son," he said. "Not a one-time-only event, but a relationship. God's greatest desire is for this Sunday to represent new relationships with all of his people."
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620