Thom Rainer, the CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, has spent a good deal of time, money, and energy collecting research on what it means to invite and be invitational as a church. Though Thom and I might have theological differences, I do believe his work and research has brought to light how churches can continue to grow in healthy practices that prepare the church for the future.
According to Thom Rainer's book, The Unchurched Next Door, 82% of our friends and family that don’t attend church are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited. There is more. Seven out of ten unchurched people have never been invited to church in their whole lives. I say we ought to do something about that.
I firmly believe Thom Rainer is correct in his assertion that churches are stronger when they are invitational. This is the work of the church as a whole. Do we believe we have something wonderful to offer? Do we believe that God’s love can change a person’s life? I think the answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Aldersgate UMC has a great sense of what it means to follow God and serve in love to help make the world a better place. My hope is that we never stop inviting people into the life of our church. This means reaching beyond the walls of the church to invite persons to worship, but also to reach into the pews of the church to invite guests into our bible studies, community events, and moments of deeper discipleship.
Thom Rainer gives some tips for inviting someone to church on Easter morning, he says; “It will be one of the highest attended days of the year. There will be some people you don’t know. Some of them are guests. Others are members who attend infrequently. You have an opportunity to make a loving impression on these people with a few simple acts.” He goes on to give nine servant-filled actions to consider
1. Pray as you enter the property. Pray for the guests. Pray for the services. Pray for the pastor and
2. Park at the most distant spot available. Save the closer parking places for guests.
3. Greet people. They may be guests. They may be members. It’s okay to introduce yourself to either.
4. Look for people to help. You know the place well. Many others will not. Be a guide. Help
someone who looks like he or she needs help.
5. Sit as close as possible to the front of the worship center. Save the back rows for guests and
late entrants, so they don’t have to walk past so many people.
6. Sit in the middle. Don’t claim that aisle seat where people have to walk over you or past you.
7. Sit closely. Your worship center may be packed. If so, be willing to sit cheek to cheek.
8. Volunteer to serve. As the number of attendees increase, so does the need for volunteers.
The parking team, kids ministry, and church greeter ministry are a few of the areas that will need more volunteers to help serve and minister to members and guests.
9. Pray as you leave. The Holy Spirit is likely working in many persons who attended. Pray for
the Holy Spirit’s continual work of conviction and comfort.
These are simple acts. They are acts of service. And if you survive doing these acts of kindness and service on Easter, you just might be able to do them on other days of worship as well.
Darby Jones, writer for UMCOM (United Methodist Communications) reminds us that about the “out of reach” and “within reach” ways of being invitational throughout the year. She writes; “Easter is not a once-a-year event.” She notes that it falls on the calendar once a year, but that “Each Sunday is meant to be a mini-Easter, with the celebration of Christ's resurrection central to each worship service. This is the heart of the evangelium or Good News!” She goes on to say that “out of reach” invitation is hyping up Easter only to fall flat on being truly invitational the rest of the year. She says, “While people enjoy coming to church for the "special" worship on Easter Sunday, be sure to make your worship setting and entryway reflective of the many ways that Christ's resurrection is present in your community throughout the year.” She notes that building strong relationships within your congregation and inviting others to be part of the work of the church is what allows a church to thrive and be healthy.
As you prepare for Easter this next Sunday, be mindful of where God might be calling you to invite someone new. Maybe God’s calling someone to our wonderful church but that person needs an invitation to feel welcome here. Perhaps there is someone in the pews who have been with us for a few weeks, but is waiting to be invited to a bible study, Sunday School class, or community event. Sometimes building relationships means stepping out of our comfort zone to reach out to someone new.
I invite you to be invitational this Easter season, and beyond.
- Pastor Jon