There is great resource and energy throughout the Church of England being directed toward “Church Growth”…trying to reverse the trend of declining numbers across the Churches and not just the Church of England. Parishes are encouraged to be more aware and take stock of how we can be more welcoming. We like to think our church welcomes visitors. But how welcoming can we be, if we are not inviting? We are welcoming as long as people get themselves across the church threshold, but we fail to take our welcome outside.
This focus on invitation – “Creating a Culture of Invitation” was the subject for a Saturday workshop recently attended by two representatives from St. James’s and three representatives of St.Michael’s along with others from affiliated Parishes of The Society. This was training aimed at lay people and clergy because the clergy cannot foster “Church Growth” without active and committed involvement of the people who make up the congregation!
We began by considering why it seems so hard to invite friends to church. We looked at our concerns over acceptance and rejection of our invitations, and then heard from Michael Harveyhis observations and ideas gleaned from years of trying to establish a “culture of invitation”. He has researched the phenomenon of invitation and response with different denominations, on different continents, and here are 12 tips he had to share on how congregations can create a culture of invitation.
1. Vision - Leaders, set a vision for the congregation and you to personally invite people to your Church. Emphasise it, repeat it and sermonise on it. Commit to this vision.
2. Modelling - If you are a leader then lead by example. This is what modelling sounds like when you are a church leader: ‘I am inviting someone, will you?’
3. Cascading - By all means send the annual church Christmas leaflet to your local area. But remember to also take invitations down to a one-to-one level. Personal invitation is always more effective than mass mailings.
4. The gift of friendship - Many of us see friendship as ordinary, but friendship is extraordinary. Pick up the phone and invite a friend to a special service or event (e.g Christmas, Easter, Harvest, Mothering Sunday)
5. The power of story - I always ask, ‘And what was the name of the person who invited you?’ When we tell our faith stories, let’s celebrate the inviters in our lives – the brave person who grasped the nettle.
6. Ask God who he might want us to invite - Who has God been preparing for this, in your life? Who is God asking you to invite ? PRAY asking for their name
7. Practice the question - Practice the nine words that can change a life: ‘Would…you…like...to...come…to…church...with...me?’
8. Pray - Pray. We could pray for our own courage to invite, for those we are inviting, for other congregational members and the people they are inviting. Pray for your church leader and those planning and delivering your services.
9. Make the invitation - Whether the person accepts or not is God’s part of the process, not yours.
10. Walk or drive with them to church - Once your friend has said ‘yes’ to the invitation, go and pick them up. Walking or driving with them is as much part of being church as is the act of worship.
11. Introduce them to your friends over food or coffee - It is easier to help someone to break into the life of the church family once they have met others in your community.
12. Assume your friend is coming next week - Assume your friend is coming next week, or to another service or event at the church, and invite them again. ‘Shall we do this again next week?’
All of the above are “tips”…NOT A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS! Michael Harvey’s main point was to say that “SUCCESS” cannot be measured by numbers and to encourage us to see that step of issuing an invitation IS SUCCESS. Having the courage to invite someone. It is like sowing seeds.
He reminded us of an all-important passage of scripture quoting St. Paul: 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. (I Corinthians 3.6,7 )
Growth is in hands of God.
Let us pray for the grace and the courage to sow seeds of invitation.