‘Would you like to come to my church on Sunday?’
‘No, thanks though.’
‘Would you like to come to my church on Sunday?’
No one died. No one fell out with each other. No one was offended. Someone could find life.
You will hear contrasting views when you look at the subject of how people come to faith in Jesus.
Some will champion ‘Friendship Evangelism’ and ‘Being a witness’ amongst your peers and colleagues. Others will say ‘No, Jesus said ‘Go’, so you’ve got to go out into the streets and win people for Jesus.’
Do you know what I prefer? All of it. Ultimately, they are all a means to an end.
Similarly, some will say that church should be ‘Missional’, where others say that church should be ‘Attractional’. People make compromises because they might say that an attractional church isn’t missional, and a missional church isn’t very attractive!
Which is best? All of it! We need to make the most of every opportunity like Paul if we are going to really see breakthrough.
I was in a large church recently and I asked the members of the congregation to stand up if they first came to faith because they went to a crusade or a Christian event. 5 stood up.
I then invited them to stand up if they first came to faith because a Christian approached them in the street. 2 stood.
Next, I invited them to stand if they first came to faith through watching God TV or listening to Christian radio. 1 stood.
Finally, I invited them to stand up if they first came to faith because a friend or family member invited them to something at church. Pretty much the whole room stood.
Statistics tell us that nearly 80% of people come to faith having been invited to church by someone they know.
Life Church is known for its warm welcome. Here’s a challenge: We may be WELCOMING but are we INVITING?
I would suggest that we are legends once people have got over the threshold of the door. The trouble is getting them TO the door.
So we have to ask the question “Why don’t we invite our friends to take a closer look at Christ and his church?” If the statistics are true – where are we going wrong? Where are we locking down the growth that God wants to give us?
Here is a complex formula for invitational mission.
It contains three important letters. A+S+K=Ask.
We all know it, but we don’t do it, so let’s explore some of the reasons why. A survey was carried out by Michael Harvey, who I met a few years ago. The survey was conducted in 700 churches across 13 countries. This very question was asked of every person.
“Why don’t we invite our friends to take a closer look at Christ and his church?”
The sad reality was that between 80-95% of church attendees had no intention of inviting anyone, ever. In the growing churches 80% of the members didn’t invite, and in non-growing churches 95% had never considered inviting anyone.
Even in good, growing churches the stats were terrible. That means that for a church like Life Church with about 250 people on a Sunday, only 50 people even consider inviting someone. Let’s say that of those 50 people, 10 remember to invite on any given week, and maybe 1 in 10 friends respond with a yes, we could end up with 1 extra person coming to church. And that is in a healthy and growing church!
No wonder we have a problem!
In the worldwide survey that was conducted there was a clear observation. There were 10 common reasons why people didn’t invite others to church, and all have FEAR at their root.
I wonder if you can relate to any of these:
Church is unpredictable. I don’t want my friend to suffer!
Reality check – Church will never be perfect, nor predictable. Some churches plan more than others to make it more predictable so that their people will find confidence to invite others, but we also leave room for God to show up and surprise us and our guests. It’s a balance. With our ‘All in Sundays’ we will always work hard at getting that balance right.
They won’t want to go because they said no last time I asked.
OK, so they said no before, but you have no Idea what they might be going through, or what is happening in their life or mind. Keep inviting – don’t give up! People change, situations change. Your invitation could land at just the right time, so KEEP INVITING!
We also sometimes make decisions for people. ‘Oh, they’d never come’. Don’t take the decision out of their hands. If Jesus can get hold of an unlikely candidate like Paul, or a dope smoking hippie like Chris Kilby, then he can get hold of your unlikely candidate.
We have no non-Christian friends.
There are three options here. If it is true, then as a church we need to look hard at the culture and ask how we became a ghetto. If all we do is meet together with the doors locked, then there really is a problem. When people say this it’s not usually true – which leaves us with the other two options: You are either lying to yourself, or you do know some people, and you need to overcome fear and begin inviting them. (panic)
It’s the church leaders’ job, or maybe ‘the evangelist’ (or Alpha team)
It goes like this. We are cash rich, but time poor, so our thoughts go like this: ‘I’m out at work all day, then I have the family to look after when I come home. Whereas TOM, he’s been released by the church – we pay his salary – that’s our part in the mission! What else has he got to do all week?!’ Caricature I know, but we do put an awful lot of expectation and hope in our leaders. It’s too much. It’s like being a football manager. If the team is winning, the players get all the praise, it the team loses a couple of games they sack the manager! YOU CANNOT OUTSOURCE YOUR MISSION.
It could damage my friendship.
Mark Twain once said, ‘I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.’ One of the most powerful fears facing us is the fear of diminishing a relationship. ‘I might lose a friend’. Like Mark Twain hinted at – in reality I can’t think of any real examples of this ever happening. It is true that the relationship may change, but making disciples was a command of Jesus and we must do it. It could even take your friendship to another level! ‘They might think I’m pushy or judging them’. Not if you are full of grace. When it boils down to it – this is really fear of man and it will stop us inviting because we are too worried about how others perceive us. That’s just vain.
I’m worried that people will think that my friend is not ‘our type’.
Think about the Samaritan woman whom Jesus encountered at the well. She was an unlikely choice. How about Matthew the reviled tax collector? Another unlikely choice. I was an unlikely choice, you are an unlikely choice – you are, but you are chosen nonetheless, and so might your friend be!
I read a great book some years ago called ‘No perfect people allowed’, by John Burke. His opening chapter begins with this question: ‘What do a Buddhist, a biker couple, a gay-rights activist, a transient, a high-tech engineer, a Muslim, a twenty-something single mum, a Jew, a couple living together, and an atheist all have in common? – They are the future church.’
I am reticent/timid.
I get that, but there are times in life when we have to overcome fear and employ faith and courage. I’m not suggesting you have to be an extrovert and pushy, just quietly confident. Fear and timidity don’t come from God – faith and courage do. Think about Peter before and after Pentecost – maybe you just need the filling of the Holy Spirit to make you bold and courageous!
Faith is a private thing.
This is probably not such an issue in churches like ours, but for those we are speaking with and seeking to win, it is still very culturally un-P.C. to talk about issues of faith, or anything serious really. When did it become like that? From the beginning Christianity was a public invitation – when did it become private? Science is public, the arts are public, politics is public – why should faith be private? We end up compromising and treading gently – When it comes to sharing our faith we are too often ‘softly softly’. Simple question – was Jesus ‘softly softly’? No, but neither was he ‘pushy pushy’. He was just earnestly doing his father’s business. He is our model, not culture.
I don’t want to be seen as strange.
Another reality check – YOU WILL. Noah looked strange building an ark in the desert. Sarah looked strange buying maternity clothes at 90. The Israelites looked strange marching around Jericho blowing trumpets. Peter looked strange stepping over the edge of the boat in the middle of a lake. Even David, when his wife was ashamed of his strangeness said ‘I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes’ (2 Sam 6:22a) In reality the whole gospel message is strange. A narrative where God becomes man, comes to earth, lives perfectly and dies horrifically, then is raised, then goes back to heaven, but sends his Spirit, who fills his followers and empowers them to carry on his mission even though he’s in heaven. One day he’ll come back, and the dead will rise, we will rise, and be with him forever in a new creation.
It is about the most improbable and bizarre and strange story ever.
Be in no doubt, it is strange, and you will appear strange. It also happens to be true. When faith comes, the strangeness goes. Mystery remains, but it goes from being strange to wonderful. Out part is to trust God ad believe the gospel and be a bit less self-conscious. It’s not about us.
They might ask me something difficult about my faith.
Another fear, this time fear of cross-examination.
In law, a cross examination is the detailed questioning of a witness in court. It always begins simply:
‘Please can you confirm your name’. Then the questions get harder.
‘Where were you on the night of the incident? What were you wearing?’
As you drill down into the details you will be asked exactly what you saw and experienced. What did you witness?
Guess what – Jesus calls us to be witnesses. Some questions will be simple, some will be hard or even hostile. Be prepared to be a witness – you can’t be part of the church and join a ‘witness protection programme’!
‘Fear not, for I am with you.’ Isaiah 41:10. ‘Surely I am with you, to the very end of the age.’ Matt 28:20b) An awareness that you are in the presence of perfect love drives out fear.
So to conclude, here are some practical steps we can all take to create a culture of invitation and make sure that all of our events and services, especially our ‘All in Sundays’ are packed with visitors:
- Fear. Recognise and acknowledge it, remember that it doesn’t come from God, then reject it and use it to your advantage.
- Faith. Cultivate it by trusting God with new situations – take steps forward, try new things. Invite someone to something.
- Confidence. Learn to cope with a ‘No’. When Jesus sent out the 72, he prepared them for some rejection and told them to shake dust off their feet and move on.
- Fear God. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ Prov. 9:10.
Redefining Success for Life Church
We so often define our efforts as failure. (I invited someone, and they said ‘No’) So we give up. What we are actually saying is that the ONE doesn’t matter. (Even though we know that Jesus left the 99 and went for the ONE)
We are also saying that the results are down to us. I think if you read the parable of the talents, it’s clear that results are God’s business, our part is to be faithful.
We are defining success wrongly and unbiblically.
However we articulate it, what we are usually saying is that success is ‘One person inviting one person, and that person saying ‘YES.’
Which is crazy because we can do nothing about the ‘yes’ – it’s out of our hands!
It’s tough enough to invite someone, without the added pressure of having to get a ‘yes’!
Ironically, the pressure to get a ‘yes’ ends up cutting off the invitation. A common way to avoid the possibility of failure is to not try. We live in a world that is terrified of failure, so we remove all risk of uncertainty.
As the saying goes ‘If at first you don’t succeed…hide all evidence that you tried!’
So here is a new definition of success for Life Church If you remember this and nothing else, I’d be happy.
It is a definition given by Michel Harvey in his book ‘creating a culture of invitation’.
“Success is one person inviting one person, leaving the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to God.”
If we define success that way, we are ditching all fear and expressing genuine faith, and God really loves to honour faith.
With grateful thanks to Michael Harvey and his research presented in the book ‘Creating a Culture of Invitation’.