This summer I am sharing a list of 9 ideas for Cal-Pac pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1, #2
Today I want to talk about #3 – Sharing with Others about Your Community of Faith.
A bit of background first…..My main work in the Cal-Pac Conference is working with the Bishop and Cabinet in starting new faith communities. We began in 2013 with a goal to begin 62 new faith communities by 2024. So far (as of July 1, 2017) 26 new faith communities have begun. It is exciting work and the best part are the stories of people who have recently found our churches. The story I most often hear is how this new faith community connected them to a loving God and that this has changed everything. New faith communities are making a huge difference in people’s lives.
Interesting, I have noticed two types of new start – those where the congregation invites their friends and those where they don’t. Sometimes a new faith community maybe mistakenly believe this is the pastor’s work or they don’t realize the importance of it. Being a church where everyone invites is an early (and key) indicator of future vitality.
But inviting isn’t just for new faith communities, it is for us all.
Rev. Dan Dick wrote an article about inviting that I often share. He writes, “An example: two churches just eight miles apart. Both, experienced membership decline from the 1990s through 2007 — older people died or moved away, no new young families, giving decreased and both congregations supplemented their finances through fund-raising dinners. In 2007, the respective attendance of the two congregations was 67 and 63. Congregation A looked to the pastor and the Annual Conference for assistance and direction, wanting help “attracting young families and growing the church.” Congregation B recognized that they had very little to attract new people and that they weren’t doing anything proactive to reach out. A core group of 21 members made a commitment to invite at least one friend, neighbor, family member, or colleague to a small group, a work project, a fellowship event, or worship each week. 2011 – Congregation A, 41 in worship and on the verge of closure; Congregation B, 121 in worship and beginning a capital campaign to renovate and expand.
In over 200 years, one key of evangelism has remained constant: personal invitation is the key to growth.
Inviting others into a relationship with God through the church is key to reaching new people. But the reality is very few people in our churches (pastors and laity) invite.
So why is it important to move through our own discomfort and invite others? Two reasons jump out at me these days:
First, people need God. Back to my experience with new church starts – many of the new people reached are hearing (often for the first time), that there is a loving God who cares for them. This might surprise you, but it is true. People in today’s world are often unaware of God’s great love in Jesus Christ and we have the opportunity to share it with them.
Second, life’s ups and downs open people up to God. Moving into a new community, marriage, the birth of a new baby, divorce, job loss, middle age, college, the death of a loved one, are all times when we look up from our lives and wonder about the bigger picture. How could we not? Look around in your life – who is going through a time where they are asking questions, looking for purpose or seeking community?
People are searching for hope, for meaning, and to lighten the burden they carry. Having a loving faith community of prayer, Bible study, worship and serving others makes a huge difference. This is why we invite.
So how do you invite?
- Start with prayer – Ask God to open your eyes to the needs of people around you, the needs that only God can fill. Let that be your daily meditation. This orientation to others and their needs is important. Look around you.
- Second, make a list of people who are going through change in life or through a difficult time. Pray for them and extend yourself for them. Ask yourself, what has been life-giving that I might share (a book, coffee, dinner and conversation, Bible study, retreat, worship)?
- Then, think of what you might say. This can be a bit of a challenge since no one want to sound canned or rehearsed, but the truth is many of us need a bit of help on knowing what we might say- we get nervous and we don’t want to be too heavy handed.
My experience with inviting has been it is in the context of people I know (family, neighborhood, work, etc) and it comes up in the course of conversation. Something like, “Sounds like a lot is going on for you. What helps me is connecting with God. I am part of a great church & next week we start a new focus on dealing with stress. I don’t want to overstep our relationship but I’d love to invite you to come.” Then, be quiet and let them speak.
- Next – Know that at first you will be uncomfortable, but the more you invite the more comfortable you will get. One reason we don’t ask is because it is uncomfortable and hard, but the more you do it, the easier it will get. So begin now.
- Spend some time as a church talking about how you are inviting.
- What is needed to help you invite others?
- Commit to this important work of sharing Jesus.
Side note: I’d love to connect with a church that would test out what Dan Dick wrote about (see above). Is there a church out there where 21 people would commit to weekly inviting? If so, I’d love to work with you. (NReilley@calpacumc.org)