I’m sitting in my neighborhood Starbucks contemplating the topic of inviting people to church. I’m not certain why the subject makes hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but it does. How difficult can it be? The objective, perhaps oversimplified, is to find people that aren’t presently attending church and invite them. Here in the coffee shop half of my objective is already met – there are people. Sure, they are all a little preoccupied: a couple sipping lattes and awkwardly discussing the weather (first date?), a man intently pecking away on his laptop, an older woman reading a novel, and the steady stream of regulars coming and going.
How to Successfully Invite More People to Your Church
What if I stood up right now and announced, “Hi everyone, my name is so-and-so and I’d like to invite you all to my church this Sunday!”? I’m not really the type to do this, mind you, but I still can’t help wondering what kind of response I would get. It would probably be followed by gasps, some eye-rolling, whispers, half-suppressed laughter, and maybe even a “that’s not the way to do it, sister,” from a genuinely concerned fellow believer. Whatever the case, a collection of unfiltered reactions might reveal insight into adopting a better method.
I am not going to make a scene just yet, so let’s hypothetically work our way around the room and consider possible objections and come up with effective responses. Here’s what we might learn:
1. Develop relationships
There is a student logging into his Moodle account for detail on a college assignment. He is convinced that Christians are old-fashioned and irrelevant. While he would be amused by an invitation, he has already bought into the stereotype that Christians have abandoned all reason. In his mind, faith in God is intellectually unsupportable. His presuppositions render any response to an invitation a royal waste of time. My blanket invitation is not sensitive to his objections. Relationship, or at the very least a conversation, would go a lot further.
2. Know your church
A lady sits opposite a fidgeting 5-year-old. Between his incessant interruptions and his mugging for attention, her thoughts focus on the child. She is a single parent and she is tired. Her own need for friendship is outweighed by her concern in finding her son some positive influence, social activity — something encouraging — outside of their lonely, chaotic world. She feels they are just two insignificant souls repeating a much too common story. Here’s the thing, not only does your church offer support for single moms to connect with other single moms, it also has a great kids’ club with loving leaders. But what good is that if a personal connection is lost to a general invitation. Know what your church offers and be prepared to assist with refreshing and hope-giving ministry options.
3. Find common ground
The obvious common interest in this room is our love for coffee and social atmosphere. Regardless of the differences and cultural barriers, it is how we’re the same, not how we’re different that makes us accessible to others. We all have fears, insecurities, hopes, and dreams; we all have realities we hide and delusions we project – we are human and we need purpose and meaning that only our Creator can give. These are the things that speak volumes to the people around us.
4. Don’t be weird
“The woman’s crazy!” I hear the cashier say under his breath. His mind rehearses the various stereotypes he’s seen recently on TV. Of course, his presuppositions are based on a gross stereotype but the reality is this is how many people see us. The bible teaches us to be separate but it never said “be weird”. Yes, some versions of the bible do call out the word “peculiar” in describing followers of Christ, but peculiar means set apart for God. It isn’t how closely we can resemble the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live, but how we resemble a redeemed people full of hope and filled with life! In fact the rest of the verse describing God’s people says that we are set apart so that “[we] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV). So shed the notions that the form factor of your appearance can make your message more or less Christian, or that speaking some inordinate version of Christianese will inspire confidence from your audience. You are a peculiar people, not weird.
5. YOU are the church
There are disenfranchised among the group tonight. The word “church” for some, opens up old wounds and unmet expectations. Besides, there are moral, intellectual, and emotional objectives that come into play that a blurted out invitation won’t even begin to address. There are ugly stereotypes and faulty pre-conceived notions to overcome. People need to know that church is not a merely a membership or a clique. It’s you and me.
Of course, these are merely practical considerations. In no way am I suggesting that they are part of some winning formula. I simply gave you insight into the minds of a few fictional characters. There is One, however, who can see into the hearts and minds of the people around us. “…for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, NKJV). We invite people to church because we want them to hear the gospel, or be a part of a community of believers to promote growth; but whether we approach believers or unbelievers with our invitation, I Corinthians 2:4 teaches us that the things that come from God can only be discerned through the Spirit of God. Always ask God for discernment and direction – and always be willing.