How to invite friends to church so they will actually come

If you have had a great experience with God, if you are part of a great group, if you know people who are struggling to find that something in their life that only a relationship with God can provide then you want to share what you have found.  But how to invite your friends to church so they will actually come?
 
If you are issuing an invitation then the goal is to get them to come.  You don’t want to turn them off.  You don’t want to come off as weird.
 

The Wrong Way To Invite Your Friends to Church

How to invite your friends to church so they won't come.
If you are making use of a bull horn or a giant sign or if you are raising your voice or if your invitation sounds like a threat or uses the words salvation, damnation, or sin – you’re going about it wrong.  If you want to issue an invitation to church that your friends will accept follow these five steps.
 

 1. Spend some time with God

Before we can share God with someone else, before we can invite our friends to church, we must first have something to share.
 
It’s no different than the oxygen masks on an airplane. You know the instruction – if the plane loses cabin pressure, masks will drop from the ceiling and, you must put your own mask on before you help anyone else. If we don’t spend time with God, if we don’t have some God is us, then we can’t share God with anyone else.
This is what Jesus did. Before key points in his ministry, Jesus took time to be alone with God.
  • As he prepared to begin his ministry Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness.
  • Before he started down the road to his sacrifice in Jerusalem Jesus went away to a mountain top where he was transfigured
  • On the night he was betrayed he prayed in the garden at Gethsemane
These weren’t the only times Jesus spent with God. The Gospel writer, Luke wrote, “As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.” -Luke 5:16b The Message
If we are going to invite like Jesus, we must first follow his example by spending time with God.
 
 

2. Tell your friend a story, your story

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on UnsplashLike the other Rabbis of his time, Jesus often used stories to teach people about God. These stores, that we call parables, helped his listeners understand concepts and lessons that were often hard to understand and sometimes even harder to see how they applied to real, everyday life.
 
So, what kind of story should we tell?  Though you may be tempted to get right to the point and tell your friend all about Jesus or about how you came to be a Christian, that’s not the best story to tell first.  You need a story that is natural to use in an every day conversation.Do you have a story about your faith or about your church that you can tell when someone asks you how you are doing? What is something about St. Paul or your church that excites you? Better still, what is something  that might interest the person you are talking to?

 Story ideas

  • If they have kids, maybe you speak about how our Sunday morning children’s programming is really taking off
  • Do you have a favorite mission?  Tell them about it.
  • Have you been moved by what is happening with the family of former refugees living in The Inn at St. Paul?  Share them the latest news.
  • Is there a Sunday School class or Bible study group that you love?  What’s something specific that you can tell about it?
  • Even if you are new to a church you probably have a story you can tell.  Were you blown away by the welcome you received? Did the music in worship bring you closer to God?

A great thing about stories like these is that there isn’t room for debate. This is your story from your perspective and though people can interpret the events differently, they can’t dispute the facts. People can argue with a street preacher about the existence of hell or the divinity of Christ, they can’t dispute how a retreat or an opportunity for service has changed your perspective or improved your life.

3. Invite your friends to tell you what they believe

Most people’s favorite topic of conversation is, themselves. If you are out on a first date or you’re trying to make a friend, one of the best things you can do to get the other person to like you is to ask about them and then show genuine interest in what they have to say.
 
In many social circles, religion is a taboo subject but many will happily tell you what they think on a subject. If you’ve told someone your story, ask their opinion, ask about their experience. Chances are they will eagerly tell you.
If you’re talking about our children’s programming, ask them how they are passing their values on to their children. Did you tell them about the refugees at the Inn?  Ask what kinds of volunteering they have done that was the most meaningful for them. If you’re bragging on your church friends or your Sunday School class, ask who they count on when life is tough.

My favorite question-

Often these are the types of questions that, eventually, will lead people towards talking about their religious beliefs. That’s when you can ask one of my favorite questions, “Are you part of a particular faith community?” I like this question because it doesn’t assume that the person you are talking to is Christian. Whether they are Jewish or Muslim or Hindu, Pastafarian or none of the above, this question includes them. And it doesn’t come off as judgmental.

Answers vary but often the message is the same

In answer to this question I often hear, “Well I was raised Lutheran,” or “We sometimes go to a church across town,” or my favorite, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” Occasionally someone will say something like, “I don’t believe in that stuff” but that’s unusual.
 
In these responses I hear the father who brought his sick child to Jesus for healing. Jesus told him that he could help the child, that in fact, “All things can be done for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23).  The father replied, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24b (NRSV))
 
Though people rarely use those words, I often think they are communicating a similar message. I’m spiritual. I’m looking for something. Something better, different than I had in the past. Something that respects my intelligence and is making the world better. I want that but I don’t know where to find it. Can you help me?
 

4. Invite strategically

If we are going to invite our friends to church then we have to actually invite them to church!  Perhaps the most common mistake a new sales person can make is to fail to make the ask, to close the deal. In our example, it’s great to tell your story and it’s awesome to ask about other people but if we never make an invitation, then we’ve not invited anyone to church and chance are low that they will actually come.
 
Jesus knew how to make an ask.  “[Jesus] saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9 (CEB))
We must issue an invitation and we need to do it the right way.  I don’t mean that you need to dig up your fancy stationary and pull out your Amy Vanderbilt book on etiquette to find the right words. Rather, we need to make the right invitation at the right time.
Not everybody Jesus invited was ready to become his disciple.  While Jesus invited Matthew to “follow him”, Jesus asked Zacheaus to host him at dinner. We have to make the right invitation to the right person.

Besides worship, what might you invite your friends to besides “church”?

Family fun event, service day, Habitat for Humanity build, IHN dinner, tutoring at the Inn, St. Paul Presents.  Check out our upcoming events page for other ideas.
 
If you think they might be ready to join you at worship, offer to pick them up, meet them at the entrance, or invite them to come to lunch with you afterwards.

Inviting can be scary… invite anyway

When it comes time to invite your friends to church some will hesitate. Some will hold back because it feels too risky.
 
When we invite someone, we make ourselves vulnerable. After all, they could say no. They could say absolutely no! They could laugh at you. Invite with confidence anyway.  You are inviting them to begin or deepen or renew a  relationship with the one who created them, the one who loves them, the one that wants to know them more.  That’s too big an upside to shy away from.

5.  Repeat.

Spend time with God, tell a story –  your story, ask what others believe, and invite your friends to church.  Then go back to the beginning and do it all again.  And again.
 
Your friend might not be ready to receive your invitation to church yet. But each of us are created thirsting for a relationship with God. Jesus said as much when he told the woman at Jacobs well, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” (John 4:10 (MSG))
 
People try all sorts of things to quench their thirst for living water, the thirst for a relationship with God. Some accumulate power or money.  Others seek out drugs.  While some of these seem to temporarily lessen our longing, they will never satisfy.

Don’t give up

God never gives up on us. God never withdraws the offer of relationship, the offer of rebirth. Theologian Carl Barth said that God’s love for us is so strong that it will even follow us into hell. If God is willing to give us a second and a third and a four—tieth chance, then we must be willing to make an equal number of invitations.

If you follow these steps, if you follow the example of Jesus, then you will be able to invite your friend to church and they will actually come.
 
Brian Gath is the Associate Pastor at St. Paul Community Methodist Church who loves God and loves to share God and God’s church with everyone – even when it is hard.  To learn more about St. Paul visit our webpage or better still, join us for worship.  Email Pastor Brian at briang@stpaulcumc.org.