What’s Up with Chreasters?

–Daniel S. Ferguson

Just like Heaven, churches yesterday likely had a shortage of chairs. Some of those people filling them are what regular attendees refer to as “Chreasters,” meaning they only attend church at Christmas and Easter. It’s a term meant somewhat pejoratively, but it’s really an interesting subset of church attendees that I find fascinating.

Who are these people? Why do they so religiously avoid church for most of the year, but for some reason, just as religiously, show up at the high holidays? What’s the deal?

Often, they’ll answer that they’re spending the holiday with family, hence the parties of 96 bajillion people who church ushers have to find a way to seat in the same row somehow, as if life itself depended on it. (I keep hoping it’s so they can all do a family line dance in the middle of the service, because there’s simply no reason they ALL have to sit next to each other.) But really? Family time? Isn’t that what they’re going to get at the family lunch and activities afterward? The church service hardly counts as family time. You’re never facing each other, and you don’t really interact, except to shush the overdressed, Instagram-ready children. Other than being physically in the same space, you’re getting about as much quality family time as you would at a movie theatre, which is to say none.

So no, I don’t buy the family answer. It seems too coincidental. Sure, I’m certain that family invitations are the reason you’re at this particular church service instead of a different one. But why are you at church at all? If it’s really about family, why not simply show up to the lunch afterward? What gives?

I really don’t know. But I would love a straight answer. Chreasters always stick out like swimming trunks at a prom, so they’re easy to find. But it’s not easy to get a thorough answer out of them. I asked a bunch yesterday, and they all said they were there to spend time with family, as if that were the law or something. However, I couldn’t think of a delicate way to dig deeper and get a real answer. I don’t know, maybe it was their real answer and they all just happened not to think that hard about it.

None of this is to complain about the situation. I’m really happy they’re there. I just wish I could study this phenomenon a little more directly is all. If an extra ten percent of people showed up yesterday solely out of social obligation to their families, that’s an extra ten percent that heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. I’m always down for that.

My only problem is that I want the conditions to be reproducible with a controllable independent variable. That’s the scientist in me. (Not the Christian Scientist; that’s different…) And for that to happen, I have to know why it is that they really came. What were they hoping to accomplish? What it solely family obligation or a sense of guilt if they showed up for the family picnic not having gone to church? Or were they, perhaps, using Easter as an excuse to graze by the church of their young faith, hoping to experience again what they once felt and knew so regularly? Were they wanting their children to have the same joy at church they once did? Did they know, perhaps hope, that they would hear the Gospel? Or was all of this just a reason to dress the family up and take spring pictures?

That’s what’s interesting to me, anyway. I want answers to those questions. I have a feeling that this is all at least a little deeper than pageantry and tradition and family obligation. It’s not like church has a hidden quality to it. You know you’re going to hear about Jesus. Why willingly sit through that if you’re not at least a little interested? Why expose yourself to something that makes your blood boil if you don’t want it just a little bit?

The most fascinating part of this whole thing was that I saw Chreasters singing yesterday. The songs were relatively new; they couldn’t have possibly known them from tradition. They clearly were just trying to keep up. But they were singing all the same. Row after row of marginal attenders singing praises to Jesus. Their families were all looking straight forward; they weren’t being watched by their siblings and parents and nieces and nephews. This wasn’t just obligation. They were singing.

I have no idea what they were thinking or feeling or going through. But for that moment, they were just as Christian as anyone else in the room. They weren’t just a “Chreaster.” They were a Christian, however briefly and minutely. I hope they come back, with or without their family’s invitation. I want to see them again and sing with them again, and I want them to know that Jesus loves them the other 363 days of the year, too.

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