A number of years ago Tearfund conducted a survey on church attendance in the U.K.. It revealed amongst other things that some people who used to go to church or never went to church were open to attending church, “if given the right invitation”. Based on their findings, they estimated that around 5-6% of the adult population of the UK was open to the “right invitation” to attend church. That translates into about three million people.If the same is true of Scotland, it works out at about four hundred and fifty thousand people.
And if you live in the U.S., the stats are even more stunning: about 82% of the unchurched would consider attending church if they were invited!
Whatever way you look at it, that’s a lot of people. A lot of people just waiting for the “right invitation”.
Of course statistics are just that – statistics – and the realities of the spiritual battle that rages for the hearts of those who don’t yet know Jesus is another thing. However, the possibility that so many people are “open” to coming to church is worth at least thinking about.
If there is any solid foundation underlying the results of this research it means that there are people you work with, people you are friends with, people in your family who are just waiting to be asked to go to church.
You will notice that I used the term “right invitation” above. That is lifted from the study itself. And perhaps that is one of the keys to reaping what appears to be a ripe harvest on our doorstep.
What could a “right invitation” look like?
No doubt there is the opportune moment in which to invite someone to church. If, for example, a person is preoccupied with some big life event, it might not be the right time to invite them along. And there is the right kind of event. To take an extreme example, a full on all night prayer meeting might not be the most appropriate meeting to invite your seeking friend to attend. Having said that, I have seen people come to a “chandelier swinging” prayer meeting and get converted as a result, despite the fears of some of those leading the prayer meeting! God will not be boxed in!
One way to think about the “right invitation” is to think of it in terms of where the person is at, what their concerns are.
In the gospels, Jesus reaches out to different people with different felt needs in different ways. I use the term “felt needs” because the real need is always the same – the need to have our sins forgiven and to find relationship with God.
In John 3, Jesus reaches out to Nicodemus. Nicodemus has questions, theological questions. Jesus dialogues with Him and leads him into truth. Some people are like Nicodemus. They have questions. No matter how much you want to try and convince them about how God heals the sick or answers prayer, they still have big questions that need to be tackled. A “right invitation” for them will entail at some time or other discussing those questions, whether one to one or in a group setting like Alpha.
On other occasions, Jesus did not enter into dialogue, He simply challenged people to follow Him. Jesus was bringing change, the implications of which most people did not see. His challenge therefore, was one to be part of what He was doing. One person Jesus challenged to follow Him was Matthew or Levi the tax collector (Mark 2.13-17). Some people need a call to change their direction in life. They are ready for it. They are ready for a challenge. They need purpose and direction.
Some people are simply craving acceptance and forgiveness. They know they have messed up in life. They don’ t need you to take them through Romans 3 to prove that they are sinners. They need the hope of forgiveness. Think the woman caught in adultery (John 8) or Zacchaeus (Luke 19).
All of these sorts of people live in your world and my world. The challenge for most of us is to take the time to get close enough to them to find out what’s going on in their hearts. Sometimes it’s obvious who those people are who are just waiting for an invite. Sometimes, it’s surprising who those people are.
I’ll end with a story. A few years ago a lady from my church asked if I would meet with her boss. She worked for a firm of solicitors. Her boss wanted to make me aware of a service her firm was providing to people who were unaware of or could not afford legal representation in a particular area of law. We had our meeting and a few days later, I spoke to the lady from my congregation. She said her boss had felt very welcome and enjoyed meeting with me. There was one thing however that disappointed her – I had not invited her to church. Why? I suppose I just did not think she would be interested.
Don’t make the same mistake as me. Assume everyone is interested! And let’s reduce the numbers of the great uninvited.