THE MAGIC OF INVITATION
A couple weeks ago, I received a call from the diocese asking me about our church growth. We have had some steady, modest growth in the last two years and they wanted to know what we were doing to make that happen.
Regularly, church growth is treated like magic. If you bring in the right priest with the right magic formula, the church will grow. The community will somehow just know that what the church is doing is “good” and they will show up. It’s a virtual Field of Dreams mentality - if we build it they will come. Episcopal evangelism is often described as building a gorgeous fish take and placing it next to a river, lake, or ocean. We hope the fish will see our beautiful work and jump in. Unsurprisingly, this is not a successful method.
My initial response to Church House, which was a bit simplistic, but true, was:
“We go outside and talk to people.”
90% of the visitors to St. John’s over the last year had similar refrains, they came to visit because some one invited them - meaning in an interaction with a parishioner or priest, someone directly said “I go to St John’s, we would love to have you come and join us.”
It feels vulnerable, not only because we live in a time where we are more sensitive to the balance between inviting and overbearing, but also inviting someone to something so personal puts us at risk. Our friends may not like our worship style. They might have different theologies and thoughts about God.
We could be just what they need and an answer to how God can continue growing in their lives.
A number of years ago, Chris and I invited friends, currently unaffiliated or unhappy with their church affiliations, to come and pray the Advent wreath with us on Sunday nights. Not a single friend turned us down. We lasted praying together until Easter. Despite the busyness of spring and summer, the invitation came out the following Advent, and again, we gathered each week for prayer. There was no coercement, badgering or awkwardness. For two years, it was a highlight to our advent season - praying with friends.
The magic formula God uses to share the possibilities of Christian community is people - you are the method that God uses to grow the church, to invite people in, for the church to hear what the community needs, for the church to offer back to the community God’s love and help.
This summer, get outside and talk to people. Hear what’s happening in our community - the good, the bad, the joy, the pain - and be ready to answer back with the invitation to explore it in prayer and community.