This week I came across two American studies on inviting people to church According to the first study:
Three out of four people attend a church for the first time because they were invited. Yet less than half of church members say they have invited someone in the last year (Lewis Center for Church Leadership).
According to the second:
“If every member of the congregation invited three people to worship during the course of the year and only one of those people actually stayed, it would double the worship attendance. One of the reasons people do not visit our congregations more often is simply because no on ever invites them” (Tim Dolan, Congregations 2011).
This set me thinking. Is it true in our context that three out of four people attend church because they were invited? I am not sure. It would be interesting to do a survey of people who have begun to attend our church recently. Some most certainly have come because of friends. A good number, however, have come because of our web-site. However, on reflection, those who come because of our web-site, tend already to be Christians. If one puts to one side those who are looking for a church, as distinct from those who are looking for faith, then I believe it is true that the vast majority of people who begin to attend church comes as a result of a personal invitation.
Another thought came to mind. What percentage of people in our church in any given year invite friends and neighbours to church? The first American study speaks of “less than half of church members say they have inviteed someone in the last year”. How many less? Would a third of church members have invited someone? How would that compare with our own church? At Christmas time in particular I am very aware that a good number of our members do invite their friends – but would it be as high as a third? Or would it be more like10%? I don’t really know. .
Then a third thought. What holds people back from inviting friends and neighbours? What would help people to invite friends and neighbours? Festival services clearly help – Christmas and Easter are obvious occasions. In some places ‘Back to Church’ Sundays have been helpful – although strangely in our church that ‘Back to Church’ Sundaya have not worked. Would it help if we designated certain Sundays as ‘bring-a-friend’ Sundays?
Then a fourth thought. Do some people give up too quickly on inviting friends and neighbours to church? The second study I quoted gave the impression that we should not be surprised if only one in three became regular in worship – do people sometimes give up inviting because of the two in three who do not return? .
Then a fifth and perhaps more disturbing thought. Do people actually have friends to invite? How many of us are to all intents and purposes living in a Christian ghetto? How many of us have good friends who are not Christians? Or if we do have non-Christian friends, how many of them are local? The reality is that for commuters at least, many of their non-Christian friends can often live far away. Indeed, with many commuters away from home twelve or more hours a day, it cannot always be easy to make friends locally.
On reflection, it would be fascinating to conduct a survey and see what people perceive to be the difficulties they face in inviting friends. One thing for certain, if we are going to make an impact for Christ on our community, then we all need to be in the business of inviting others. To quote again from my ‘dream’ of a church: “I have a dream of an evangelising church, where people want to bring friends”.
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Paul is the chairman of Ministry Today, as also the College of Baptist Ministers, and from 1993 – 2014 was Senior Minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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