How to be an invitational church
As far back as 1988 with books like Roy Oswald & Speed Leas “The Inviting Church”, the idea of being an “invitational church” has become fundamental. It is a response to how most people describe their churches as “welcoming” or “friendly”. Both “welcoming” and “friendly” are passive; we sit and wait for people to show up so that we can welcome them. That is part of the old idea of an “attractional church”. In contrast, Churches that grow are ones where members actively invite others to attend and join. This is a good habit and culture to grow now and in the future. Google “invitational church” to find an abundance of resources.
I said in my last email that people are telling me that it is much easier to invite people to online worship as the barrier is much lower than to face-to-face, both for the invited and the inviter. The invited don’t have to go into a strange building full of strangers. The inviter is simply asking someone to a remote, non-threatening experience, so can feel more confident. Further, at this time of physical distancing, people are crying out for connection: this is an opportunity! All of this doesn’t just apply to online worship. If your congregation is operating mostly through distributing printed material or emails, then ask others, such as family, friends or neighbours, if they would like to receive these as well.
Here are some more practical tips to make it easier to be invitational:
- Congregations can design a simple invitational flyer for members to either print and drop in neighbours’ letter boxes or email to friends and family. Be prepared to give printed copies to members who don’t have computers, so that they can distribute them to their neighbours.
- Consider emailing all the groups who used to meet in your facilities and invite them to your online worship or to receive your regular emails. In this way you are not only continuing your relationship with them, you are deepening it as well.
- Search Facebook for local neighbourhood groups. Most neighbourhoods have them, set up by individual locals. You can respectfully invite people to your online worship, or send you prayer requests, or ask for your regular emails, or even a phone call if you have the people to do that.
- Many congregations are finding a large increase in attendance at their online worship compared to their usual face-to-face. Make sure that you invite these people to participate in something more, to begin to turn a contact into a connection. That may be a Zoom small group or to receive regular emails. You may also invite them to continue to share in your online worship if you stream your physically gathered worship post-COVID-19. As we approach the lifting of restrictions on gathering, invite your online congregation to future face-to-face gatherings.
- Talk about becoming an invitational church now, so that when you do resume gathering face-to-face, you have helped your congregation transform during this time to become one where members invite others.
More practical tips
The Presbytery of Port Phillip East (in Melbourne) is doing amazing work, supporting their congregations. What I love about this page is that it begins with the most basic things that we can do at this time, then builds step-by-step to more complex online ministry. There are links to many practical resources.
A final thought. There is a saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” That’s relevant for us now. As I’ve said before, do what you can and celebrate it. Don’t feel that, because you can’t deliver the grand things that you see others do, that what you are doing is insignificant. What people crave most at this time is connection.
Rev. Dr Rob McFarlane is Presbytery Ministry Leader for Parramatta Nepean Presbytery