We are a week into the season of Lent. We are struggling with our new practices, prayer lives, fasts, and commitments. We are confronting truths about ourselves, seeking God’s guidance as we desire to mature spiritually, and learning how to forgives ourselves and others.
Lent is a season of many things including preparation. During Advent, we are preparing for the coming of the Incarnate Christ, God in the flesh, Immanuel, God with us, little baby Jesus in the manger. During Lent, we are preparing for the death of sin, the outpouring of earth shattering grace, the revelation of the new promise, the empty tomb, the resurrection that changed everything.
Though we are reflective now and we are turning our faces towards God in fresh ways, we know there will be an Easter morning. We may place the dates and times of Holy Week services on our calendars, yet we eagerly long for the celebration of Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday is filled with jubilation, bright white linens (paraments) on the altar area, lilies as far as you can see and smell, and full pews. Friends and family gather from a wide array of states, first time guests come through our doors, hymns are belted.
On Easter Sunday we come to celebrate resurrection life. On Easter Sunday we come to celebrate God’s power over sin and death. But what if we could add something a little extra this year. Not moving screens, or a light show, or a bubble machine, or liturgical dancers, or confetti. Although I would be all in favor of liturgical dancers. What if we invited someone who doesn’t have family and friends, or a church home, to celebrate Easter with?
There are many people in Shawnee who know and love Jesus Christ who do not have a church home, and many more who do not know that God loves them. People are often waiting on an invitation, an authentic welcome from someone they have a relationship with. What if each of us committed to inviting someone we know to join us for church during Lent or on Easter Sunday? What if we were so excited about the power of Resurrection Sunday that we didn’t want anyone to miss out?
Church is a community, and community is about relationships. The best way to find yourself at home in a church is to find yourself at home in the relationships you have with people there. This means engaging others and developing new friendships. Consider how you can invite someone and make it a welcoming experience for them? I’ve written a few tips below that I hope will help you as you reach out into Shawnee, extend an invitation to relationship, and connect with your neighbors.
- Invite. The first step is to actually extend an invitation. This is more than saying, “I go to church and I like it there. You should come sometime.” A real invitation is just like the ones we send out for parties. An effective invite includes the important details like where, when, how long, and what to bring. A good invitation describes the event, why you’re going, why the person you’re inviting might be interested, what time and day it is, and where it’s at. We sometimes think of inviting someone to church as inviting them to Sunday worship. But the church, St. Paul’s in particular, is about far more than Sunday worship alone. Guests often find coming to a community event or mission opportunity a more laid back experience. The following steps, with a few minor adjustments, will work for inviting guests to these events as well. It is also a great idea to invite friends to check out St. Paul’s online through our website at www.shawneestpauls.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or subscribe to our newsletter through our website. On our YouTube account, friends can listen to clips of our choir, special events, and sermons. This helps our friends get a feel for who we are and have a chance to ask you questions, all before they walk through our doors. NOTE: Most people will check out a church online well before they decide to visit. By the time first time guests walk through our doors, especially those coming without a friend as a host, they have been considering whether or not to check us out for sometime.
- Be a Host. Invitations are nice, but they are often set aside on the counter or in the back of our minds. When you invite someone to church, include the invitation that you’ll pick them up and take them with you. This creates comfort because your friend knows they won’t be going somewhere new on their own where they may not know anyone. If they’d like to drive themselves, offer to meet them at the door at a certain time. Then sit with them during the service or event. Be sure to give them a small tour of the church so they know where the restrooms and Kid’s Center are located.
- Make the Introductions. Before or following worship/event, stay with your guest and introduce them to those around you. Be sure to share names between those you’re introducing, creating familiarity with a personal touch. This is also a great time to introduce your guest to the ministry team. I’m almost always standing outside of the sanctuary near the office area so that I can greet guests. Swing by and say hello. I’d love to meet your friend and make their acquaintance. You can also help them find material on upcoming events, discipleship and mission opportunities, information on children and youth activities, and more at the Connect Table across from the Good Samaritan window.
- Share a Meal. If you’re able, extend the invitation to go on to lunch together. This is a great time to talk about first impressions, the sermon, the music, people they may have seen that they knew, and deeper questions they may have about how to get further engaged or become better acquainted with the community. Even if your guest decides not to call St. Paul’s their faith community, they will probably have some really great feedback for us on our hospitality. And remember, we are all apart of the same Kingdom. St. Paul’s is a great place to call home. That’s why so many have chosen to commit to growing in faith here. We recognize we won’t be the perfect fit for everyone, but we do hope that everyone will know they are welcome at 10th and Beard.
- Follow Up. Be sure to follow up with another invitation to join you at church in the future. Experts say this should be within the first few weeks after the first visit. You can extend this invitation directly following their first visit. You can also follow up with another invitation after a couple of weeks. Extend invitations to Easter Sunday, Community Events like our ice cream socials and Bingo nights, small group studies, choir rehearsals, Theology at Theopolis, or mission events like Community Dinner. St. Paul’s has a wonderful worship service, yet we are deeply rooted in God’s mission for us to our community. As a result, there are many things happening at St. Paul’s that you can invite your friends to in addition to worship. All are welcome to join in the work and the fun.
- High Pressure Sales Not Needed. The purpose of inviting people to church is to not sell them Jesus or pressure them to be another number in our pews. Invitations are not meant to result in conversions. This is simple. Invite someone to join you in doing something you enjoy doing. Period. Remember, this is about us sharing in the love of God in a relationship with others. We often complicate this by thinking we need to be converting people, or pushing them towards baptism, or making members. That’s not what we do here at St. Paul’s. Our goal is to make sure that everyone in Shawnee, every single person, knows they are welcome in a faith community as they are, for who they are, and that they are deeply loved by God. As we know, a life a faith is an ongoing journey. We are called to love our neighbor, invite them to join us in discipleship, include them at the table of the Lord, and serve the community together. The best sermon we will ever give is the one we live with our lives. Honor the “no”, honor the “not yet”, honor the “I’m not sure”.
Easter is coming. Though my spirit needs this time of Lent, my heart longs for the coming season of resurrection. Easter is a day of many blessings and beautiful things. I look forward to seeing everyone, hugging old friends, making new friends, and celebrating the glory of God together.
In a couple of weeks, there will be invite cards on the pews when you come for worship. Our prayer is that you will take as many cards as you want, that you would pray over them, and then use them as a tool to help you invite others to join you at church. The present is always the perfect time to extend gracious welcome.
I extend this personal invitation to all who are reading this. My heart desires to see you grow in the love of Jesus within a community of Christ followers. St. Paul’s is a phenomenal people with their hearts on God. If it has been awhile since you have felt truly connected to a faith community, I hope you will find your way to St. Paul’s. Join us during Lent and on Easter Sunday. We can’t wait to see you!
Great things are happening at St. Paul’s and through the wonderful people of St. Paul’s. We are better together, and together we can do far more for the kingdom of heaven. Let’s go see all the people, love all the people, and be in community with all the people.