The Congregational Development Corner: Stop Expecting Uninvited Company

12/5/2016

The Congregational Development Corner: 10 for 10 (10 steps for 10 percent growth)
During the 2016 Annual Conference session, action steps for congregational growth were shared during a Fruitfulness in Evangelism panel discussion, moderated by Rev. Jay Hanson, director of Congregational Development. Five clergy – Rev. Antonie Walker, Rev. Leigh Ann Raynor, Rev. Hale Bishop, Rev. Matt Hearn, and Rev. Jim Cowart – each shared two key tools for evangelism and growth and together gave clergy and lay attendees 10 action steps for 10 percent growth.

Stop Expecting Uninvited Company

By Rev. Jim Cowart

Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come, that my house may be filled. – Luke 14:23 NKJV

We bet you would be surprised if we showed up at your house for dinner tonight. How weird would it be for us to swing by your house, plop down at your kitchen table, and say, “How’s it going? What’s for dinner?” People just don’t do that. People rarely come over uninvited.

Architecture reflects culture. Consider how homes have changed over the past few decades. In our parents’ and grandparents’ day, most houses were built with a front porch. If you didn’t grow up with one, you’ve probably seen black-and-white reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, where residents of Mayberry spent their days rocking on the front porch, sipping lemonade, and speaking to people as they walked by. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The pace was slower, and people knew their neighbors.

Fast-forward to the present day. Instead of a front porch, we have a deck in the back of the house. We barbecue back there. We may grow a little garden of upside down tomato plants. We put up bamboo wind chimes that came with our Ginsu knives. We sit in the sun and relax on the deck. We even have garage doors with automatic openers. This may be the modern-day version of the drawbridge around the castle.

This really isn’t a judgment against where we are today or how we construct buildings. As the cliché goes, “It is what it is.” The way we interact and socialize has changed. Think about your home. What’s your first thought when you hear the doorbell or the phone ring unexpectedly? Do you think, Oh, goodie, we have drop-in company? or I’m so glad someone wants to talk to me. Maybe he or she wants to sell me something! If you do, that’s awesome, but you’re weird. Just kidding. You’re not weird. But suffice it to say that most people now regard the doorbell and the telephone as interruptions. Why? They’re uninvited.

This perception affects your church.

Even before the movie Field of Dreams introduced the concept of “If you build it, they will come,” that was the attitude of most churches. We are here. Let the people come! And that worked years ago. The church building was once considered a public building. Town hall meetings, neighborhood bazaars, and all kinds of activities centered on the church. It was a place where the community gathered. Not anymore. Now the church is seen as a private club. You don’t just show up. The perception is that you need to be a member or receive an invitation. That’s not the image we’re going for, but it’s the reality in many places.

So what do we do about this cultural shift?

We invite! It’s the basic way people come to know Jesus. What’s your story? How did you start attending church? Someone probably invited you. Most people come to church because someone invites and then brings them. The church word for this is evangelism.

I, Jim, remember preaching a sermon about evangelism a while back. It’s one of my favorite subjects. But I must have really been off my game that day. After the service, a Jewish woman who had recently accepted Christ came up to me very distressed and said, “Jim, I just can’t do that. I can’t.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about at first.

She said, “This whole thing about evangelism. It makes me so nervous. I just can’t do it.”

I started laughing because she was one of the best inviters in our church. She had brought in neighbors, friends, and tennis partners. She was warm, friendly, and excited. I said, “I don’t know what you heard in the sermon, but you are already doing exactly what I want you to do. You’re inviting your friends and family, you’re awesome at that!”

She looked puzzled for a minute, then said, “But I thought evangelism was knocking on strangers’ doors and telling them about Jesus.”

I asked, “Did you hear me say that?”

“Well, no, but that’s what I’ve always thought it was, and I can’t do that.”

I said, “I guess that’s one form of evangelism, but I don’t think it’s very effective. I know I wouldn’t respond well to a stranger. I just want you to keep inviting your family and friends.”

Her face lit up with a smile of relief, and she declared, “Well, I can do that!”

Exactly. You and your people can too.

If you or your church balks at evangelism because it sounds like “knocking on doors,” you’ve got to help people think about it from different angles. It’s marketing. It’s advertising. But at its essence, evangelism is sharing good news. It’s inviting. And there is nothing as powerful as personal invitation. That’s good news for the local church because that means the most cost-efficient method of evangelism is also the most effective method.

We do a good bit of advertising to invite people to Harvest. We use billboards and bulk mailers. We’ve tried radio, television, and newspapers. But nothing replaces the personal invitation. I tell my people that. When we are getting ready to advertise for a big event like Easter, I tell my people that this is to supplement and help them invite: “Hey, I want you to come with me to church on Easter. We go to Harvest.” “Oh, yeah. Is that the billboard? I think I got something in the mail from that church too. We’ve been thinking about trying it.”

Consider these techniques:

Invite through advertising

If you can afford it, experiment with different forms of media. Find out what works in your area. But always make your advertising an invitation. Sometimes churches make the mistake of just listing the event or times and services. That’s the same attitude as, “If we build it, they will come.” Don’t just tell the community where you are or how great you are. Invite them to come and see. Let them know that you want them to visit.

To determine what will work in your area, contact local marketing firms and ask. Direct mail, television, radio, Facebook, QR codes, and billboards have worked for us, but you have to learn your community to know how to invest strategically and wisely in advertising.

Give your people invitational tools

Equipping your people with invitational tools empowers them to do the inviting. The people in your church are potentially your most powerful form of invitation. We say potentially because many churches have not activated their members as an invitation force. They are just sitting there with great, latent potential.

You, as the leader, need to ask them to invite, model it for them, and equip them to do it. When you can put something in their hands, it will help them take their next step of inviting.

Periodically, we print up cards for our people to share with others. Sometimes these are business-card size, and other times, when we send out postcard mailers, we have extras printed to give to our people. We’ll say, “Would you take this little card and check it out? It’s not to stick on your refrigerator. We want you to use this card to invite one of your friends to Harvest this week. Now, don’t give it to your buddy who goes to the Baptist church across town. He’s already going to heaven. Give it to somebody you know who doesn’t go to church.”

Another little tool to giveaway is pens. Every week we use an outline with the weekend message, and since there are some fill-in-the-blanks, we also have pens available. The pens have our logo and website on them. Every once in a while we’ll say, “Okay, guys, today is Pen Day. Here’s what we want you to do. When you leave this service, we want each of you to take a pen with you. But don’t take it home and stick it in the kitchen drawer. Today, when you go out to eat and sign your check, give your pen to your server and invite him or her to Harvest. Or take it to work tomorrow, and give it to a friend with an invitation to join you next week in worship.”

Tell people in a clear and friendly way what you want. (Invite.) Model how you want them to do it. (Give an example.) And give them a tool. (Hand out a card or pen.)

Ask people to invite

We often do this leading up to a big day like Easter. I’ll say something like, “Today on your communication card, I want you to give us the first names of three people you are going to invite for Easter. All we need is their first names, not their addresses or phone numbers, because we aren’t going to invite them. You are. You have a relationship and friendship with them. Here’s how the church staff is going to partner with you; we’re going to pray for you and your friends this week as you invite them.”

Host special events

Your people need something cool and interesting to which to invite their friends. You know your area and your people. What do they think cool and interesting will be? It all depends on where you live and who lives within driving distance of your church. For some churches, it may be a concert or a financial planning course. For others, it’s a tractor pull! At Harvest we have hosted picnics, concerts, special speakers, and barbecues.

You can also turn your weekend messages into interesting topics that will appeal to the community. For example, these are series topics that we have advertised in hopes of drawing people who don’t yet have a church home:            

  • Raising Great Kids
  • Affair Proofing Your Marriage
  • How to Get out of Debt
  • Supernatural
  • God on Your iPod
You get the idea. People are waiting for an invitation to come to your church.

Recently, we saw a guy walk up to our church with one of our invitations in his hand. We had just done a big bulk mailer, and he was carrying it like an admission ticket. He talked with one of our greeters and then walked into the lobby. New people usually come when we do a big mailer, but we’d never seen anyone bring the mailer with him. This was curious, so we asked the greeter what he said. The greeter was a little choked up and had to get her breath. She finally spoke: “He said, ‘Your church sent this invitation to me in the mail. Is it okay if I come in?’”

Start inviting

Business-sized cards can be ordered from a local source or a print-service website such as Vistaprint.com. They cost about $25 for 500 cards and are a glossy high-quality tool. Gettyimages.com has thousands of free images you can use to design your card It’s simple.

Mailer cards can be ordered through various sources including Outreach.com. However, most local print shops can produce a high-quality mailer and may even provide bulk mail service. The actual size is that of a large postcard.

Questions and thoughts to consider
  1. Has your congregation been trained and challenged to invite constantly?
  2. What cool and interesting event could you offer your community?
  3. Why not try it?
  4. What tools can you provide this month to equip your people as inviters?
Rev. Jim Cowart is the lead and founding pastor of Harvest Church in Byron, Ga. Contact him at jim@harvestchurch4u.org.