Bring One Friend - 1st reflection
Inviting people is both easy and terrifying. Easy because all we have to do is ask. Terrifying because we have a natural fear of rejection. So as we start to think about Bringing One Friend to a service or event this advent and Christmas we need to reflect on what is stopping us. Invitation is the royal road to church growth. Clever flyers, or videos, or talks on the radio – all these have their place, but research has shown that most people come to church, and then come to faith, because of a friend's invitation. In the first of his reflections, Bishop Paul looks at the power of invitation and tackles some of the fears that prevent us from making that invitation.
Because it is you I will come
Yesterday morning I was at St Philemon’s Toxteth, chatting before the service to a young man who had been attending the church for three years and had given his life to Christ after a few months there. He had come to a church weekend because his friend had invited him, and from there to the worship on Sunday, and from there to an inquirer’s course… an entirely typical story of the way Jesus grows the church.
Research shows that the church grows when people are invited – and also that people will indeed come if they are asked by someone they know and trust.
Some years ago I was involved in Back To Church Sunday. One year we made a video of an invitation service in a rural church. And on that, over a cup of coffee and standing with his wife, one of the interviewees said:
“Cheryl Evans, who lives in the village, asked us if we would like to come with her to church, and we said, ‘Cheryl, because it’s you, we’ll come’”.
“Because it’s you, we’ll come”. Not because it was Billy Graham, or the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of Liverpool. But because it was Cheryl, who lives in the village. That is the power of invitation. The phrase we used in Back To Church Sunday was, “Success is one”. One invitation, that is. And over the years of the initiative, we calculate that over 60,000 people came to church at the invitation of their friend, one person at a time.
And now in our Diocese we have a Rule of Life which includes the belief that we are sent by God to tell – to tell one person about the Christian community and, through the church, to introduce them to Jesus Christ. And in this challenge that is all we are asking you – invite one friend, bring one friend.
Jesus told us to “go and make disciples”, and the only way to start this is to invite people to be part of our community. Jesus said “follow me”, and the only way we can encourage others to follow him is to invite them to start the journey and journey with them. Jesus told a story of the shepherd and the lost sheep, the woman and the lost coin – stories inspiring us for part of these reflections – which shows the focus of God, to bring people into (or back into) the fold.
So the mandate for this challenge is clear. And on the face of it, so easy. Just think of someone to invite and invite them: “Would you like to come to church with me?”
But if it were that easy then why don’t more of us do this?
Because it may be easy, but it’s also difficult. What if your friend says no? What if they ask questions about the faith that we can’t answer? What if we’re seen as a bible-basher?
In our Diocese we recognise these difficulties and that’s why we have set this challenge, which is also designed to be an encouragement. Over these next few weeks we aim to help you in thinking around who to invite, what to invite them to, how to invite them, and how to follow up your invitation.
As you think about doing the challenge I want you to reflect on three things.
The first is the way you deal with rejection – even gentle and light-hearted rejection – and the persistence you may need to make the invitation in the first place.
The second is how you might feel if – oh my goodness! – the people you invite actually turn up.
The third is the life changing effect this might have on the person you invite.
Rejection can be hard, no matter how light-hearted it is. “Sorry, but I always wash the car on Sundays”. “I tried church as a child and didn’t like it”. Replies like this have nothing to do with you as a person – but they can feel personal just the same. We need to be equally light-hearted in our response – “No problem! Thanks for thinking about it”. But we need also to be wise, gentle and (if appropriate) persistent.
In scripture God models persistence. Think of the continual calling of the child Samuel, or of Jesus’ story of the persistent widow. If your friend has left the door open – “Nice thought, but I’m afraid I’m busy this week” – then the invitation may not bear fruit this season but you may be sowing the seeds that will bring someone to follow God.
But what if you are successful? What if the person who you invite says yes? Then you are capturing part of the joy we see in the parable of the lost sheep, or the lost coin, where the farmer or the homemaker organises a party for the one who returns or the precious item that was lost.
And what about the effect on the person you invite? You could be the start of a life-changing moment for a friend. The moment that opens their eyes to the love of God. A love you already know and experience. A love you so long to share. This is a way for you to share this.
So this is the start of your challenge.
On Friday - yes, this coming Friday – we will specifically ask you to do three things:
Make yourself accountable to someone for making sure you invite a friend to church,
Think about who will be on a list of people you could invite – just a few people, but a real list,
And start praying for those whom, we believe, God may have placed on your heart.
Then over the next four weeks, as the preparations for Christmas fill the shops and fill people’s minds, we will take you through the process of thinking around what you can invite people to and encourage you as you go from thinking and praying about this to it actually happening.
Prayer for the Bring One Friend Challenge
As I pray for you over these weeks of the Bring One Friend Challenge, here’s what I’ll be praying:
That this simple process will help you and your worshipping community to grow in number and faith.
That you yourself may be strengthened to overcome any of the blocks – nervousness, worry, whatever it may be – that might stop you from bringing that friend, the person who is on your heart to invite and bring to church.
That through this season of challenge, and on into Christmas and then into the New Year, we may see more people knowing Jesus, by his grace, through his church.
May God bless you, in this season as in every season, and fill you with love for God’s world and for those God has given you to love.
Our Bring One Friend Challenge
This year we are challenging every member of every congregation to Bring One Friend to an advent, Christmas or epiphany service. This course helps you go step by step through the challenge as together we build a bigger church by bringing one friend.Course 7 PartsTotal current bookmarks 1