Here's a truism: people that have had a life-changing experience with God want others to find God in a life-changing way. This is surely true. It is also true that most people that sat in church pews last year never invited one single person to their church. So what is the disconnection?
One of the biggest disconnects we have in the church is that, as leaders, we often forget what it was like to go to church for the very first time. The intimidation factor for a lone visitor in a new church is simply huge. But it is nowhere close to the stress and vulnerability that is put on a churchgoer who invites a visitor. All inviters put their reputations on the line every time they invite someone to church. You can rest assured that your church members will not invite someone if they do not expect a positive outcome. And most of the time, that's why one church isn't growing and the church around the corner is. It has led us to say that "Most Christians are not ashamed of Christ, they are ashamed of their church." Ouch!
I asked a young friend how he was enjoying his church; he admitted that he loved it but was bothered by the fact that the church wasn't growing. I asked him why it wasn't growing; he acted bewildered and said, "I have no idea."
"Yes, you do," I challenged him. "You know why it's not growing."
After a silence, I asked, "When was the last time you invited someone?"
"Well, it's been a long time," he said ashamedly.
"Why don't you invite people?"
He shuffled his feet and said, "I don't know."
"Yes, you do," I said. "The reason you don't invite people is the same reason why your church is not growing."
I could tell that bells went off on the inside. He responded, "Yeah, I know why." He had known it all along. He just had never connected the dots between the challenges of inviting people and overall church growth.
It might be simple. A congregant might be embarrassed about the church decorations, the deep-end-of-the-pool worship, the inexplicably deep or dry sermons or the pastor telling jokes about his wife. The harder it is to invite people, the more challenging church growth is.
You see, I knew my friend loved God and wanted others to experience Christ's love. Unfortunately, most people are not intimidated about being Christians; they are intimidated about inviting people to their church.
The simple truth is that if an invitation is hard to make, for whatever reason, fewer people will be invited. The battle for growth is first fought in the hearts of churchgoers who want to better the lives of those around them. This is actually the desire of the vast majority of churchgoers.
I cannot say this emphatically enough-all true Christians want other people to become Christians. It is planted in them when Christ is planted in them. This means if your church has to beg, push, cajole, offer incentives, or even just remind people to invite others, it is a telltale sign that, for whatever reason, they do not believe the ministry that takes place will make a successful connection with the people they would invite.
This is where the rubber hits the road. Is your church connecting with your community? The main link is through your congregation, and if they think you're not connecting, you won't.
It is no wonder Paul challenged us in advance to "become as one to win one." The ability to relate to our communities and church growth go hand in hand. When a ministry can successfully relate to the people in its congregation in a way that reassures them that their guests will be connected with, the churchgoers will be willing to invite others because they know it will relate to those they invite.
By analyzing the temptations and challenges associated with inviting people to church, we found the following to be true. If a churchgoer can answer these questions positively, then inviting friends and family will not only be easy, it will become a lifestyle. The church will explode with growth! As a side note, my guess is that none of these topics would ever show up on a visitor survey. They require us to look closely in the mirror, as even our closest allies would have a hard time advising us of some of these issues.
- Will my friend feel welcomed?
Principle: Hospitality-The atmosphere, nomenclature, and style of service should be inviting and not intimidating to the unchurched.
- Will my friend fit in?
Principle: Comfort and Compatibility-Like it or not, invitations and visitor comfort decrease when social or cultural gaps exist.
- Can I feel confident that I know how the service will turn out?
Principle: Consistency-People need to know what to expect, because they will invite accordingly.
- Will my friend get something out of it?
Principle: Relevance-The message should be relevant and powerful for people at all spiritual levels.
- Will my friend understand it?
Principle: Understanding-Jesus taught through practical illustrations. The songs and message should be understandable for people at all spiritual levels.
- Will anything that could seem strange to the unchurched be explained through Scripture?
Principle: Sensitivity-Scriptural actions should be carried out with clarity and considerate explanation.
Having said all this, I am convinced of one thing. If members walk out of your service saying, "I wish my unchurched friend had been here," they will start to think about inviting their friend. If a member walks out of your service three weeks in a row and says every time, "I wish my unchurched friend would have heard that," nothing will stop that member from dragging that friend through your doors. The challenging thing is that often, when members walk out of churches, the only thing they can say is, "I wish my other church friends would have heard that."
It's time to evaluate. Are we creating an atmosphere that fosters growth or are we just ministering unto ourselves?