By Kent E. Fillinger
Jesus told the parable of a man who planned a great feast and invited many people to attend (see Luke 14:15-24). When preparations were completed, he sent his servant to tell his invited guests, “Come, for everything is now ready.”
Surprisingly, the people on the guest list made multiple excuses for why they couldn’t attend. This angered the master, who told his servant to invite the poor, crippled, blind, and lame to come. After they arrived, there still was room. So, the master told the servant to invite anyone he could find to come to the banquet.
The A-list folks refused the invitation and made excuses for blowing off the party. But after issuing even more invitations, the master enjoyed a full house for his feast.
It’s a short parable, but we can draw many deep spiritual lessons from it. I will focus on just one.
We may invite many people to church activities, but not everyone will accept. If we continue to invite everyone we see, however—regardless of who they are, where they live, or what they look like—eventually our churches will be filled.
What Is Your Church’s ‘Invitability Quotient’?
In an article at churchleaders.com, pastor Rich Birch wrote, “‘Invitability’ describes how a church is growing its ability to have its people invite friends and family.” Birch asks some great questions for church leaders to consider:
- What are you doing to encourage your people to invite others to your church?
- What tools have you given your people to enable them to help create the culture of invitation you are developing?
- Do your people understand that being an “inviter” is an essential part of every Christian’s life?
- How urgently does your church sense the need to reach the community around you?
- What can you do to increase the vision for community impact at your church?
(See “5 Questions about Invitability and Its Impact on Your Church,” by Rich Birch, May 6, 2019, churchleaders.com.)
In the book Fusion, Nelson Searcy suggested three markers to gauge whether your church has a positive “guest flow”:
- Maintenance mode: 3 first-time guests for every 100 in worship attendance
- Growth mode: 5 first-time guests for every 100
- Rapid-growth mode: 7 first-time guests for every 100
Some churches are unsure whether to prioritize evangelism or discipleship. Pastor and author Eric Geiger shared a helpful answer in a blog post.
“The dichotomy that is sometimes set up between discipleship and evangelism is a false dichotomy and not an option Jesus gave us,” Geiger wrote. “If evangelism does not result in discipleship, it is not the evangelism that Jesus envisioned. If discipleship does not result in more evangelism, then it is not really ‘teaching people to obey.’ The result of discipleship is not ‘teaching them everything’ but ‘teaching them to obey everything.’ It is transformational, not informational.” (From “The Great Commission and 3 Types of Churches,” June 11, 2019, ericgeiger.com.)
If We Ask Them, Will They Come?
In 2018, LifeWay Research found that nearly two-thirds of Protestant churchgoers had invited at least one person to visit their church in the past six months. But 29 percent of respondents said they didn’t invite anyone.
A recent Barna report indicated half of practicing Christians (52 percent) are completely comfortable inviting their friends or family to church.
The same Barna report (“Beyond an Invitation to Church: Opportunities for Faith-Sharing,” March 26, 2019, www.barna.com) asked non-Christian and lapsed Christian adults in the U.S. how they preferred to explore faith; both groups said their top two ways were “casual, one-on-one conversations” (30 percent) or “casual conversations with a group” of Christians (23 percent). Tracts and someone on the street trying to talk to them were the two least preferred options for both groups.
The frequency of church attendance impacts how often people invite others to join them. Twenty-seven percent of people who attend at least once a week had invited three or more people; that dropped to 10 percent for those who attended once or twice a month.
Inviting a person is no guarantee they will come. A 2016 LifeWay Research study found only one-third (35 percent) of unchurched people said they were likely to come to a church worship service if invited (see “Two-Thirds of Churchgoers Have Invited Someone to Church,” by Bob Smietana, July 12, 2018, lifewayresearch.com). But a LifeWay Research study from 2014 found that 67 percent of Americans said a personal invitation from a “family member” would be very or somewhat effective in getting them to visit a church. And 63 percent of Americans said a personal invitation from a “friend or neighbor”ť would be very or somewhat effective in getting them to visit a church. (See “Strategic Evangelism: The Power of an Invitation,” by Ed Stetzer, July 21, 2014, www.christianitytoday.com.)
In The Unchurched Next Door, Thom Rainer said that nearly 8 in 10 unchurched persons would come to church if we invited them and accompanied them to the worship service.
If someone responds to an invitation to attend church, they are highly likely to tell others about their experience. Auxano.com reports that “guests will talk about their initial experiences 8-15 times with other people.”
Why Don’t We Invite People to Church?
Rainer shared 10 reasons why church members don’t invite others to church. I grouped his list of reasons, gleaned from thomrainer.com, into two categories.
- I just don’t think about it.
- I’m afraid I’ll be rejected.
- Nobody ever challenged me to invite anyone.
- I don’t know how to start the conversation.
- It’s the Spirit’s job—not mine—to bring people to church.
- The music isn’t that good.
- The preaching isn’t strong.
- We’ve got too many church problems right now.
- Our church is already too crowded.
- It’s too far for people to come.
A reason not listed is that many among us don’t know many non-Christians. If few people at your church know unchurched people, then it’s no mystery why your church isn’t growing.
In “5 Questions about Invitability,” Rich Birch suggested these questions for personal reflection:
- When was the last time you invited someone to your church?
- If it was recently, what happened when you asked? What happened when your friend came to church?
- What part of that experience went well?
- What part of that experience was negative?
- If you haven’t recently invited someone, why not? What is holding you back?
If your church is planning a special event in the near future, that would be a good, easy, natural opportunity for inviting someone.
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and regional vice president (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan) with Christian Financial Resources.