Are We Inviting the Wrong People to Church?
I often get the opportunity these days to help pastors and congregations think about growth. Here is a formula I use when I consult. Take your sanctuary capacity; multiply it by .75 and double it. That is your target. I see a lot of churches in USAmerica that were constructed to seat about 200 comfortably so let’s use this as a starting place. Multiplying 200 by 75% will give you 150; so double it to get 300. Your building would allow you to reach 300 people each week in two Sunday morning services. Doing two Sunday services with Sunday School in between is really quite efficient and easily done.
Now let’s get out our Gospel calculator; I want to suggest that a church with a sanctuary that holds 200 and averages 100 in attendance each week can be less than two years away from reaching their building potential of 300. In the parable of the Parable of the Sower Jesus promises that some of the seeds we sow will fall on receptive hearts and yield a good harvest. Not all of them or most of them but some of them. Imagine that your 100 people decided to offer one invitation to worship to a different person every week for the next year. That would be 52 invites per person and a total of 5,200 personal invitations to worship. Now imagine that only one out of the 52 resulted in someone who actually plugged into your church. After one year, your church would be running 200 each weekend. And if those two hundred did the same thing and had the same yield of 1 in 52 results, you would be maxed out at 300 in a year and a half. This is the crazy math of the Kingdom and it is staggering what God can do with 100 people who are willing to risk something as “do-able” as inviting one person a week to church.
Writer Thom Rainer has done as much research on people who don’t attend church as anyone out there today. His findings have sent tremors across the Christian community for two decades. One surprising finding was that most people who don’t attend church don’t have anything against the church; they just don’t attend. Rainer found that 70% of people who never attend church have never been invited to worship. Now get this, while 82% of people who don’t ever attend church stated they may attend if invited (with 23% being very likely to attend); only 2% of church attendees actually invite non-church attendees to worship! In fact, we are about 20 times more likely to invite people to our church who go to another church than we are to invite people who do not attend church!
I think our problem is that we are too good of farmers (back to the Parable of the Sower). We invite people who seem “Christian-ish” already and don’t bother with the people who don’t look like us, think like us or act like us. It is not our call to decide who is the most likely to receive Christ, it is our call to invite everyone to Christ! What might happen if we invited people who seemed “least” likely to fit in or “least” likely to respond? It is clearly worth a shot!
Rev. Shane L. Bishop, a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.