Twice in bible studies last week, our conversation went into inviting someone to come to church. It got us all thinking—when was the last time that we invited someone to come to church?
For some, it could have been at Christmas, for some it may be a Back To Church event, for some for others it may be longer than they care to admit. For others, it may be as irregular as a wedding or funeral, or maybe they’ve never invited anyone to come to church at all.
Yet we can recognise that, generally speaking, we wish our churches were fuller, we wish our neighbours would come and worship with us, we wish we had more young families in the church.
That being said, if we’re not inviting folks to come, if we’re not trying to make them feel that they will be welcomed (not just greeting them once they walk in the door)—how will they know? If we’re not actively extending invitations to people, we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re just not there.
In the small towns where I serve, we all know one another, and we all know when worship is. And we all know the folks who opt not to join us—but some of us still invite them, never knowing when the Spirit may move them to come. And whether they join us once, or become weekly attenders, or never darken our doors, we still extend the invitation. It’s more to do with us living our faith than what the response is.
I think we need to be careful and intentional about our invitations; they need to be sincere, and honest, and regular. It doesn’t need to be a formal event, or a high festival. We don’t need to go into logical detail of why to come, or presume pre-conceived notions, or anything that carries guilt or judgment. Our invitations need to accurately reflect what the church is and what is has to offer. And we need to demonstrate how the church will be in our actions and words at all times. Realistically, hearing someone complain about their worship and fellow congregants is not exactly going to encourage someone to attend.
So we need to find realistic, meaningful, personal ways to invite folks. And inviting them to church so that they can experience worship in community and nurture a relationship with the living God (not because we need a new Sunday school teacher or more money in the collection).
I think we need to act much like Philip in today’s gospel, chatting to Nathanael about Jesus: “Come and see.” It’s as simple as that—an open invitation that can be accepted or not. An invitation for someone new to experience the church for themselves and make their own decision about it. One that does not pre-suppose any outcome, but can hope for a sharing of the light of Christ. It’s an invitation not to a time and place, but to a journey with the Savior. A wondrous, beautiful journey that is experienced uniquely, which may begin with one simple invitation: come, and see.
Regardless of the outcome, when was the last time you invited someone to church? And more importantly, when will be the next time you invite someone to church?