Many of us have heard it time and time again that the church is in decline and that we need to make some major changes if we want to see that decline begin to reverse. Many of us have come to the belief that if we just change up the style of worship, or offer better programs, then all of our problems will be solved. We tend to suffer from the Field of Dreams Syndrome: if we build it, they will come. While cultural relevance and excellence in serving are certainly a part of being a thriving congregation, those things, in and of themselves, are not enough to accomplish the mission of going out into the world and making disciples.
For years, the Protestant church in America has existed as a church based on a model of attraction. This is the mindset that if we just have the best programs, awesome worship, and the best presentation, then people will just start showing up. In the 1950’s and 60’s, that may have been true, but in large part, it is no longer true. If we have been paying attention at all, we can see that our present reality shows us that this we can no longer simply attract people. Instead, we must move and adapt to meet people where they are in our culture. Today, the primary way any new person comes into our church is through a relationship with someone who is already there. It is through invitation.
You might say, “Well, I have tried to invite my neighbor to church, but she said no. What else could I possibly do?” Or you might say, “I have people I really want to be here, but I know that they will not accept the invitation to come to church.” I understand that it can sometimes feel daunting to invite someone to come to church with you. Along with the invitation often comes fear that the person will say no, that the person won’t like you any more, that the person will be put off or think that you are pushing religion down their throat. Yes, when we invite people, we do face the possibility of rejection. But there is absolutely no way around the fact that this may happen from time to time. There are, however, some very important things to consider:
Have you ever invited a non-church friend or neighbor to anything other than Sunday worship? If you have, good for you, that is a start. If not, then you need to consider other times or ways that you can invite someone to be a part of our community in addition to Sunday morning worship. Maybe a church meal, a special program, a children’s event. Think on it.
Have you ever thought about the idea that not everything we do has to happen at the church? Why do we need to meet in the church building? Why do we have to have meetings in the chapel? Why does Bible study have to meet in the church library?
The people we want to reach are out beyond the church walls. We are anxious to get them inside our church walls. And while we want to bring them to worship, and share in study and prayer and fellowship with us when we gather in the building, for some, the idea of entering a church building without knowing anyone is a scary thought. We have to find ways of meeting people and introducing them to our community of faith on their turf, on more neutral ground.
With that said, here is my challenge to you: THROW A PARTY! “Throw a party?” you may ask. “What does that have to do with anything?” I will tell you now, it has everything to do with what I am talking about. We want people to meet the church and come to know Jesus Christ. How can we do that except to leave the church building and find ways to bring people into community? How else can we get people to meet together and begin to build relationships with one another and with Christ? A party is an excellent first step to connecting the church to the world. It is an excellent first step in relational evangelism and invitation. So again, my challenge to you: THROW A PARTY! Now for some party-throwing tips.
Throw it anywhere you want, except for at the church. Have it at home, at a restaurant, in your backyard.
Invite friends, co-workers, and family members who are not a part of the church. Invite friends from church as well. The whole point of this party is to give your non-church friends an chance to meet and hang out with friends from the church. If you do not have both groups present, the point is largely being missed.
Center your party around a shared interest, whether it is food (aka a good, old-fashioned backyard BBQ), movies, board games, etc. Do something that you and your friends like to do. For instance, at my house, a board game party goes over very well because that is something that we already like to do with our friends. It doesn’t have to be complicated!
Don’t have a hidden agenda for the party. Don’t try to sneak in Bible study or an evangelical message. That is not what this is about. It is about connecting people from outside of the church with those who are a part of the church. It is about building new relationships. At the same time, don’t hide the fact that some friends are church friends, and don’t avoid spiritual conversation if it comes up. You don’t need to hide who you are or what you are about, just remember that this is a party! It’s about having fun and helping connect people! It is a springboard for future invitation!
You don’t need a committee to throw a party. You don’t need approval from Leadership Council or any of the other leadership teams. You don’t need to ask permission from me or Okey (though you can invite me to your party and I will happily attend!). All you need is a desire to connect the world and the church, and a willingness to invite friends to a party. That’s not so hard, is it?