In May we were joined by Michael Harvey from Season of Invitation to help us explore what it looks like to be an invitational church.
He challenged us across the diocese, to consider how important it is that we move beyond being simply a welcoming church, to being a welcoming and inviting church.
Three things struck me from the session.
Within the realm of invitation we spend a lot of focus encouraging our congregations to bring people to church or church events. The emphasis is on bringing, with little regard paid for the emotions, the fear, the worry and anxiety that the invitor may be feeling. The invitor builds this sense of fear by second guessing the invitee, telling themselves: Oh, they wont want to come to that and This will ruin the relationship I have with them.
We need a much greater focus on supporting, caring for and equipping the invitor and acknowledging the fear and emotional responses that they are going through in making an invitation.
A good approach is the ACORN approach which invites people to ask God who He is calling them to invite, naming that person to a friend within the congregation and then reporting back once that invitation has been made and allowing God the space to move within and through that invitation.
Success is one person inviting one person. Success is not contingent on a yes response and doesnt need to involve an invitation to Sunday morning at 10.30am.
For every 100 calls a sales person makes, at least 95 will result in a no. They dont stop inviting after the first no, they persevere. Perhaps our problem as a church is that we are not hearing enough no's.
This is more fully explained in Michael's video.
3) The response
If the invitor says yes instantly, then we praise God; clearly the harvest was ripe and, by being obedient to His call, the response was positive and God will continue to be at work in that situation.
If the invitor says no, but can you ask me again in the future, then a great opportunity has opened up.
If the invitor says no, whether strongly or more subtly, then you have been privileged enough to hear where they are currently at in their journey towards and relationship with God...and so have they. By vocalising this, a conversation has begun and they are aware that you are willing to listen to any questions they may have about this in the future.
Season of Invitation is an opportunity to invite people, throughout the Autumn, to a series of church services and events. The key is not the quality of the printed postcard or even the quality of the event they are invited to, the key is in our support of the invitors and our individual willingness to step out and be invitational.
Putting a poster on the church noticeboard does not make you an invitational church, but perhaps a whole church approach to naming invitees, recognising fear and giving it a go, will.
Videos exploring the subject are available here.
Invitational postcards to use throughout the season of invitation are available here.
Michael's research in this area and links to the books he has written can be found here.