We have all had the experience of being new or starting out somewhere. The best experiences give us a real sense of being warmly received, welcomed and encouraged. It begins with creating an inviting atmosphere that does a lot to help someone feel “at home.” Most important are the people they meet and the people they come to know.
Every parish wants to be a welcoming community. It’s something we work on every day at Holy Martyrs. And judging by the comments and smiles we get from visitors who come here, it’s something many people feel they’ve found.
The best parishes don’t wait for people to come to them. They make a priority of inviting and encouraging people to come and experience what they’ve found. The most effective ambassadors for a parish are happy parishioners who love their church.
Every thriving parish has members who encourage others to experience it, too. It’s something everyone can do. It’s at the heart of Jesus’ great commission to his church. Here are some suggestions How….
WHAT INVITING IS NOT ABOUT
Inviting others is not about going up to strangers and trying to convince them to join our church. This approach never works and it tends to annoy people. Besides, it’s not the kind of conversation most people would ever want to have (and for good reason.) Nobody likes a “hard sell.” Encouraging others is not about “selling” them anything. It’s about making it easy for them to say Yes to the Lord.
Second, inviting others is never about encouraging people who are already attending a parish to leave their church. Even when we belong to a great parish, we should always support the faith that other people have. Jesus did not send his apostles into the world to steal new people from other churches; he sent them to those who had not yet heard the Good News.
Inviting others is not about trying to convince someone to do something they are not inclined to do. Those who are resistant to the invitation to faith are not likely to be argued into it. Rather, the invitation to faith begins with God.
WHAT INVITING IS ABOUT
Our invitation is for those who are truly unchurched, those who have never been a part of a faith community or who have drifted from the practice of faith over time. An enormous number of people in our country are disconnected from a life of faith. Statistically, the largest religious group in America is Catholics. The second largest group is inactive and lapsed Catholics. The number of “inactives” among Protestant and Evangelical Christians is also high. The result is, there is no shortage of people who could benefit from an invitation.
There are those who never had much connection with any church, for whom an invitation to “come and see” our parish would be a real eye opener. There are those who had a negative experience of faith as a child, from parents or pastors who were too focused on the negative and not enough on the joy and fulfillment faith can bring who may be looking for more.
All of these people would benefit from a great experience of church. For some it will be healing to find a God who accepts and embraces them. For others who are searching for deeper meaning in a world of shallow options, the invitation to come and grow with us will be welcomed by them.
We all know someone, a friend or co-worker, a neighbor or family member who is looking for something more. Your invitation is the missing piece.