Archive for June, 2010

View from the Diocese of Exeter on the Seminar Unlocking the Growth

I recently attended a seminar given by Michael Harvey, a founding member of Back To Church Sunday. With my own church having participated in the scheme in the past two years I was interested to hear about others’ experiences and to glean some top tips for making the most of this potential opportunity for church growth!

It was encouraging to be reminded that God is in the business of growing his kingdom. As we are promised in the Bible there will be many in our villages and towns in whose lives God is actively working and drawing to himself - people who might be reticent to come to church on their own, but who would be pleased to receive a personal invitation. So why are we often so restrained in inviting others along, even to special ‘guest services’ like Back to Church Sunday?

Research after last year’s event indicated that in the Exeter Diocese, of those churches which participated, only 20% of church members had invited people. Is it possible that we as churches are inhibiting our own growth which God is ready to so graciously give?

Why don’t we invite people to church?

It is no longer a plausible reason for not inviting people to church, that ‘if they wanted to come they would come’. This might have been the case three generations ago, when most ‘good people’ used to go to church - you didn’t have to invite them. Two generations ago ‘good people’ would send their children to church. Today, the truth of the matter is that very few will attend church without a personal invitation.

Another reason cited was that although our friends might possibly appreciate the imaginative, upbeat, special service on Back Church Sunday, we suspect that when things

are back to normal they will find us out. They will discover that our regular church services are rather old fashioned, and to be honest, a little uninspiring and out of touch with real life in the C21st, and so not continue attending. So we decide to save them the trouble and not invite them.

Whether or not this rings true for us, all our churches would do well to keep under review how we ‘do church’ so as to make it relevant and accessible to others who are not yet part of our church families. That said, we were urged not to make decisions on behalf of our friends (‘they won’t like it, so I won’t bother asking’), because God, in his grace, doesn’t wait until he finds the perfect church before he uses his people in the extension of his kingdom. God works in mysterious ways, which is just as well.

The importance of welcoming

Good welcoming, as with inviting, it was suggested is another vital building block of a growing church. We all have a part to play - we need to be hosts rather than guests in our own churches, but let’s give those folk with a special gift of welcoming particular responsibility in this area.

Kicking the habit of being an uninviting church:

The top tips I had been waiting for!

There were 12 of them, but I have highlighted just a few.

Have vision! Increase your ambition for growth. Every vicar apparently knows how many in his congregation he had last Sunday, and how many he is expecting next Sunday. We set our expectations for growth and God answers them.

Communicate the vision. This needs to be clergy led. How about encouraging your congregation to double in size – that’ s only one new person each!

Pray expectantly. Ask that God would show you who he would like you to invite.

Model yourself the change you wish to see in others.

Make the invitation. “…Would you like to come to church with me this Sunday?”. It’s really not that difficult.

Make it as easy as possible for your friend to come – perhaps meet them at their home and travel together.

Assume your friend will want to come again the following week. Encourage them.

Let’s be unlocking the growth.

Kate Hamilton Whimple Benefice