Inviting to grow

Churches need to cultivate an invitational culture among their members. True, a report on Churchgoing in the UK (Tear Fund 2007) revealed that 60% of all adults say that they will not consider going to church – but that still leaves 40% who might be open to an invitation! Indeed, many people on the fringe of our churches are just waiting for an invitation from a friend.

In the light of this my custom was to encourage my people to invite five friends to one of the many carol services, in the expectation that three would accept the invitation. My experience is that many will respond to an invitation. On one occasion I said from the pulpit that I would give £5 to anybody who found that not one of their five friends would accept an invitation – but nobody came up to me later to claim a fiver!

Why are Christians so reluctant to invite friends to church? In Unlocking the Growth (Monarch 2012) Michael Harvey lists the following reasons:

  1. I suffer in my church services and so would others

  2. Our serves are unpredictable – I don’t really trust them

  3. Our church is boring – it would put off my friend

  4. My friend would not want to go

  5. I don’t want to be rejected

  6. We have no non-churchgoing friends

  7. It’s the leader’s job to fill the church, not mine

  8. My friend said ‘no’ when I asked him last year

  9. It might damage my friendship

  10. The congregation will think my friend is not ‘our’ type of person

  11. My friends are not the right type of people for my church

  12. The church is pretty full already – where would they sit

  13. I’m shy so I would find it difficult

  14. Faith is a private thing

  15. I don’t want to be seen as strange, a Bible-basher

  16. I wouldn’t know what to say – they might ask me difficult theological questions

  17. They might ask me why I go to church

How do we deal with such concerns? Michael Harvey suggests the following steps:

  1. Vision – some will come, and some will stay

  2. Modelling – leaders need to lead by example and invite someone themselves

  3. Cascading – every individual in the church should be approached one to one and invited to invite someone themselves

  4. Friendship – members should be encouraged to have solid friendships of mutual trust that make invitations easy

  5. Story – members should be asked to tell their stories of being asked to church

  6. God’s preparation – consider who you know whom God might be preparing for an invitation

  7. Practise – saying the words ‘Would you like to come to church with me?’ They get easier to say the more often you say them, first to the mirror then to friends

  8. Prayer – mobilize the congregation’s prayers for the success of invitation

  9. Invite – don’t get lost in a quagmire of anxieties, just invite someone

  10. Accompany – don’t tell people they can go to church if they want to, offer to bring them and look after them

  11. Introduce – people to your friends and other members of the church family

  12. Assume – that they will come again and invite them to church and Sunday lunch next week as well, and the week after that

One way or another, leaders need to encourage an invitational culture. For, in the words of Bob Jackson (What makes churches grow? Church House Publishing 2015) 

Philip’s invitation to the sceptical and prejudiced echoes down the centuries – ‘come and see’ [John 1.46]. Abstract talk about a bloke from the equivalent of Rotherham who turned out to be the Son of God, did miracles, taught us how to live, died the death were heading for because of our sin, rose from the dead and now reigns in heaven with his Father, can initially sound like a tall story today. But an invitation to an unsatisfied lonely, secular consumer to ‘come and see’ the community of Jesus Christ, feels its warmth, discover the reality of answered prayer and experience God personally can be accessible and attractive. The result of the theology can follow later.

To return to where we began, churches need to develop an invitational culture. In that regard we need to listen to David Voas, Professor of Population Studies at the University of Essex, who wrote in a recent Church of England research paper (From Anecdote to Evidence: Findings from the Church Growth Research Programme 2011–2013): “The most direct route to growth comes from members inviting and welcoming family, friends and acquaintances”. He went on:

Inviting friends to church does not come easily to most English people, which is partly why it is helpful to have non-threatening half way house events like carol services as a draw. A corollary of the social difficulty of extending invitations is the reluctance to refuse them. Ours is a culture in which asking is a powerful act: it is hard to do but correspondingly hard to decline.

In this coming season of Advent, here indeed is food for thought.

One comment

  1. It’s interesting to note that people who are very reluctant to invite their friends to church (and I recognise the syndrome even in myself!) aren’t backward in inviting those same friends to their choir, golf club, exercise class, book group or whatever. Clearly there is a sense in which we consider “religion” to be a much more delicate and private matter.

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