This Sunday our church has planned “Bring a Friend Sunday.” The day is the culmination of a series on evangelism, and we had imagined that bringing a friend would be a perfect way to conclude the series. Some people have excitedly shared with me whom they plan to bring with them this Sunday, others have expressed a tinge of anxiety, while others have not mentioned the day (or their fears about inviting friends) at all. We have been using a series of videos to inspire us, distributed postcards and other invitation tools, and created fun social media posts.
But our class this past Sunday had me wondering if we were approaching our event all wrong. In his book Transforming Evangelism, David Gortner talks about the fact that evangelism is not a program or an effort to “get more people in the pews.” Instead, evangelism is about creating an ethos of sharing the good news. That ethos involves doing our own inner work about our own journey in Christ, and cultivating the skills for evangelism, such as practicing gratitude, listening for the holy in other’s stories, strengthening a sense of humility, and knowing the sacred stories that speak most powerfully for us.
We concluded our session with a talk by Michael Harvey, who argues that evangelism is not about bringing people to church, but creating a culture of invitation. He suggests that events like “Bring a Friend Sunday” place “success” in the wrong place. In fact, he says the most important work we can do is invite others. “Whether someone says yes or no is God’s bit. That is not our bit. Our job is to just offer a simple invitation,” says Harvey. By both worrying about inviting and labeling “success” as acceptance, we confuse our work with God’s work. Instead, Harvey suggests that faith communities focusing on faithfulness, not some measure of “success.” Whether the friend you invited comes or not, the church says, “Well done!”
So, I’m officially changing the name of this Sunday to “Invite a Friend Sunday.” If you come to Hickory Neck this week and tell me you invited a friend, I’ll have a gold star waiting for you. I want to hear about your experience in invitation, whether the experience was different than your expectations, and what it was like knowing that the invitation was more important than the return. I suspect we will all grow in Christ in the process. I cannot wait to hear about your experiences in invitation!