Over the years I’ve had many frustrated pastors ask me, “How do you get your people to invite?”
I’ve discovered that’s the wrong question.
The right question is, “Why aren’t your people inviting?”
The truth is people will naturally talk about something that they’re really excited about. You don’t have to encourage a 15-year-old girl to talk about her new boyfriend. More often than not, you’re asking her to stop talking about him!
Pastor, if your people are not inviting their friends and family to church it says more about the church than it does about them. So what are the most common reasons people do not invite their friends?
1. They’re afraid you might hurt their relationship with their friend. We could do this by embarrassing them, putting them on the spot, or flat out ignoring them. In other words, they’re terrified that the experience would be a setback for the gospel.
2. They’re afraid their friend wouldn’t get it. The fear there would need to be a long debriefing after the service to either explain or apologize for what just happened. This is usually a music, message or methods issue. The music isn’t up to date or the quality is terrible. The message is boring or doesn’t apply to their life, or there are elements in the service that are designed for insiders only. For example, the pastor says some code sentence and the whole congregation chants back a memorized reply. The visitor immediately feels disconnected.
3. There’s no invitational hook. This happens when the service is so predictable that there’s no real angst to invite their friend on any given weekend. In other words, when every service is as good (or bad) as any service to invite to, then they’ll usually never invite to any service.
So how do you spark an invitational revolution?
1. Do a weekend service audit. There are two ways to do this. First, try visiting another church for the very first time. It’s amazing how becoming a visitor yourself will awaken you to what makes a visitor feel welcomed and what makes them feel uncomfortable. Another way to do this is to recruit a secret shopper. Design a form that evaluates all of your church’s programs and services and then ask someone to visit a service and fill out the evaluation form. Our church has done this several times. We look for someone who does NOT attend church at all, has a young family since that’s our demographic, and won’t mind telling us the truth. We usually offer them a $25 gift card or some remuneration. PS – This can also work for a great evangelistic touch!
2. Make intentional changes. You don’t have to hire a rock band and preach self-help messages to reach people, but you do have to care enough about them to soften the sharp edges of the cultural disconnect. It’s not a matter of compromise; it’s a matter of compassion. Do you really believe that people without Jesus are lost? Do you really love your traditions more than souls? That’s the bottom line. Churches that care about people always do what it takes to reach them.
3. Do something NEW! What awakens a sleepy member of your church out of their invitational apathy? Something brand new or exciting. I’m not talking about singing verses 1, 3, and 4 instead of 1, 2, and 4. I’m talking about anything that makes your members say, “Oh wow, we’re doing that?!” Once you ignite a buzz they will begin to spread the word. This could include bringing in a special speaker, starting a new ministry, adding a new service time, doing a culturally relevant sermon series, changing the music style, maybe even replacing the 60-watt bulbs in the sanctuary with 100-watt bulbs! Remember, the enemy of invitational is predictability.
When people are excited about what’s happening on the inside, they’ll spread the word outside!
Brian Moss is lead pastor of Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Salisbury, Md.