by David Hansen, LEAD Director of Communication & Innovation
Many congregations are “welcoming.” In fact, more often than not, congregations go out of their way to describe how “friendly” they are. I suspect that if we were to ask, 90% of US congregations would describe themselves as more friendly than the average congregation.
The thing about being welcoming and being friendly is that they are passive attributes. You either are, or you aren’t.
By contrast, congregations that are thriving tend to be “inviting” congregations, rather than welcoming or friendly.
The act of invitation is active. It requires us to do something – to initiate a change in our relationship with our neighbors.
What does it look like to be an inviting disciple?
Too often we neglect the power of a simple invitation. “Would you like to go to worship with me this Easter?” “I’m hosting a Bible study on Thursday – can I save you seat?”
A good invitation is specific. General invitations almost never lead to specific plans (“Hey, we should get together sometime”). Invitations become effective when we invite people to a specific event, at a specific time. In our case, a specific event at the church or worship service on a specific date.
The best invitations also involve accompaniment. There is risk in going to a new place. Walking in alone. Not knowing who to talk to. An effective invitation lets people know that they will not be alone – the words “with me” are key.
Of all places, it is the church that often struggles with honesty. We want to paint our community in the best possible light – show people the best of who we are.
But, if we invite people without being honest about whom we are, we could wind up disappointing both them and ourselves.
Learning to be invitational includes taking a hard look at ourselves. What is the preaching like, what does the community look like, how is the music, what is the programming, and who is really welcome as a part of the community?
As you walk into church on a Sunday morning, ask yourself how the space would feel for a new visitor. Is it easy to find your way around? What is it like meeting new people? Are there signs? How was the parking?
When we step out of our own current experience, we begin to see things that we would otherwise miss. Many of these are things that we can make a difference in, in order to make space for the new visitor.
When pulling into the parking lot, we can park a little farther from the door, leaving closer parking spaces for visitors who arrive after us.
When we sit down in the worship space, we can move toward the front and middle of the row – leaving space on the end of the row and near the back for the visitors who come after us.
We can introduce ourselves to people we haven’t met yet. When we go to get our coffee, we can offer directions to someone who looks a little lost.
Just opening our eyes to the visitor’s experience helps us to become more invitational.
What will you do this week to become an inviting disciple?