By Vince Williams
November 7, 2011
Recently, I came across a survey that mentioned nearly half of a typical church’s new visitors come for the first time because someone invited them.1 Whatever the actual percentage may be for your church, it is very likely the single biggest reason someone visits.
If that is true, and church growth is as easy as a simple invitation, why aren’t our members inviting everyone they know? And why aren’t our churches growing like weeds? This topic can be filled with a number of complex answers, but there maybe one simple factor that many of us have overlooked.
The Personal Invitation
Why is it hard for church members to invite their friends to church? Certainly the lack of non-Christian friends and basic social phobias plays a role in deteriorating personal evangelism. Yet recommending things we personally enjoy seems to be built into our DNA. Some of your members, who are afraid to invite someone to church, will recommend a favorite movie to every person they talk to. What is the difference between a high-quality restaurant that everyone is raving about and inviting someone to visit your local church?
I believe it comes down to a lack of trust. Recommending a movie—or a restaurant, book, or product—is pretty safe. People know what they’re getting their friends into. Unfortunately, church is not so predictable. What if your member’s friends don’t like the style of worship? What if they’re uncomfortable with kneeling? Or worse yet, what if the message that day is too controversial? Face it: you’ve probably experienced that time when the church service got a little weird, and you were glad there weren’t any visitors that day.
In the compartmentalized world in which we live, it stands to reason that many people are happy to keep their non-church friends separate from their church life. What if they just don’t trust the church with their unchurched friends?
Building Trust with Members
I believe there are a few key ways every church can invest in building trust with their members. In fact, I believe that with a little investment strategy your church can see its opportunities to reach new people grow quickly. Let’s take a look:
1. Invest first. Show your members how much you value your outreach. By investing effort into inviting the community through your doors, you send a message to your members that you want to build those relationships. Creating printed invitations, sending New Neighbors greeting cards, or getting up new outdoor signage are all great ways to say that you are serious about reaching your community.
2. Invest in quality. I have walked through many church foyers and into the sanctuary only to think “oh boy, here we go.” It is not so much what I saw and heard, but the quality of what I saw and heard. If your decoration and communication materials look like they belong in a museum there is a problem with the quality of your communication. In today’s culture the visual appeal of your materials imputes the value of your message. Do what you do well and people will feel comfortable inviting their relationships through your doors.
3. Invest in specifics. It is hard to invite people without something to invite them to. Sure you meet weekly, but announcing particular sermons or topics ahead of time arms your members with ideas that they can use to direct a conversation toward an invitation. Better yet, have a special, focused event for the sole purpose of reaching out to your community. Following that up with tips on how or who to invite, then put something in their hands to share. That will help to develop that trust bond between your church and your members.
4. Think long-term, act mid-term. Attending church is only one small facet of people’s ever-busy lives. By building up steam over multiple weeks leading to an event you get in the forefront of members minds throughout their week. I understand you can’t always know what’s coming around the corner, but when you can use it as a tool. I recommend a 12 week promotion cycle for your major events (review the timeline here), with a minimum of 6 weeks to get your resources ordered and in your hands.
Christmas is a great time to test this concept, and there is still time left. By implementing these four investment strategies you have the potential to see more people walk through your doors this Christmas. People, who would not have come unless someone from your church felt comfortable enough to invite them to attend, and that is something worth investing in.
1U.S. Congregational Life Survey, www.uscongregations.org/growth.htm