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What invitation can mean for you, the church and others

At this time of year, thoughts naturally turn towards Christmas, boom time in the church calendar. Many churches have started preparing for special services and activities ready for the annual pilgrimage of the nearly one in five Aussies who attend church during this period.

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An occasional paper on church attendance from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) released in July produced a startling statistic: 28% of Australians surveyed said that they would accept an invitation to church. Half of these were people who described themselves as religious but non-practising. Reasons given for saying yes included the quality of relationship with the inviter.

The opposite was also true. Of those who said they would not accept an invitation, one reason commonly cited was negative personal experiences of the church. Given the downward trend in church attendance since the 1950s, and the devastating findings of the Royal Commission, this should not be a surprise. The wider Australian community has responded with a significant level of distrust and wariness towards the church as an institution.

However, healing lies in the hands of ordinary Christians.  Almost one in three people surveyed said they would be open to a personal invitation. What a great opportunity.

“I was sitting in church one day when they were talking about Alpha from the front. A lady called Beryl said she had a strong feeling she should ask me if I would come along and offered to go with me. To my surprise (and my wife’s) I said yes. I came away each week with answers to questions I was wrestling with. I had gone to church with my wife for years but never really believed any of it. The three things that led me closer to faith were Alpha, where I could ask questions, a friendly minister, and the fact that someone I didn’t know took an interest in me and was willing to dedicate a couple of hours a week to come to Alpha with me.” Mark Seager, a recent Alpha guest at St Clements in Kingston, Tasmania.

Alpha and invitation

Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of Alpha, cites personal invitation as the single most effective way to get people to participate. “Everything to do with Alpha is basically word of mouth. Guests come on Alpha because a friend has invited them.”

Guests attending a local Alpha

A mission few choose to accept

While the latest survey shows that nearly one in three would say yes to an invitation, figures from similar work in the UK over the last 10 years indicate that only a tiny proportion of churchgoers are willing to invite people to church. Author Michael Harvey, CEO of the UK’s Weekend of Invitation, says that while 70% of any given church congregation could name a potential guest if asked, almost 85% are not willing to do anything about it.

Why don’t we invite?

  • Fear of rejection
  • Comfort with things the way they are
  • An embarrassing past experience
  • Lack of enthusiasm about church

Why should we invite?

  • One in three people are likely to say yes!
  • Unlike persecuted Christians worldwide, we are free to invite
  • Someone once invited us
  • The Gospel is for sharing
  • Seasonal services provide great opportunities, such as Christmas and Easter

How can we become inviters?

  • Open up a conversation about invitation in your church, with your minister or small group
  • Recognise the fears that stop you from inviting
  • If you are a minister, consider holding a service themed around invitation

Making the most of no

  • Acknowledge that it can be difficult!
  • Celebrate obedience, not results
  • Remember the result is in God’s hands

Invitation as a foundation

Christianity is an invitation to relationship with God, made possible through Jesus. Let’s extend that invitation to our co-workers, families and friends, making it a habit to ask others to join our worshipping communities. We grow as disciples when we celebrate and encourage one another in mission to our families, friends and the people we do life with.

Will you accept the invitation?

Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith. Alpha is run in cafés, churches, universities, and homes all around the globe, and everyone’s welcome. Find out more at alpha.org.au

Andrea Hensher

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