Invitation

by the Rev. Dr. Jason L. Parkin 

I saw a sign recently that said, "I love my Church - you will, too."

What a great thought. Not the sign, but the idea.

I love my church, too. I love the beautiful ritual, some of which is based on worship practices that existed even before Jesus was born. I love the music because I get to hear beautiful sounds made by voices and organ pipes and piano strings unfiltered by anything artificial. I love the children, bursting with energy, joy, and curiosity. I love the creativity and dedication of the staff and lay ministers. I love the beauty and functionality of the church architecture. I love the generosity and compassion our people show to each other and to the outside world. I love our sense of tradition which honors our heritage without hampering our willingness to try new things. I love that together we get to feel and experience the presence of God.

I think others would love our church, too, if we gave them a chance. Yes, we're easy to find, and we try to welcome the people who do come in. But what do we do to get them here in the first place? It's intimidating to walk into an unfamiliar church on one's own, especially if it is a "liturgical" church like ours and the visitor is from a non-liturgical tradition. Many people are not comfortable just wandering in.

A study done some years ago discovered that the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 27 years. Yes, you read that correctly: once every 27 years. And yet, we easily share enthusiasm for a favorite new restaurant, a movie, or even a new phone app. People get passionate about their favorite barbecue place. So, why not tell new neighbors or friends who are hungry for a faith community, "I love my church, and I think you will, too.' Even more inviting would be to say, "I would love for you to come to church with me.'

The Alban Institute, which originated as an Episcopal research center, says that the number one reason people come to a particular church is because one of the members - not the clergy, but a lay member - invited them; and that that invitation is the number one reason by a remarkably, even absurdly, high margin. Signs in the yard, decals on the car, T-shirts, web pages, newspaper ads, even pithy and clever sayings on church signs: none of these is as effective as a simple invitation.

In our baptismal covenant, we promise to "proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ." In other words. We are supposed to be engaged in inviting and welcoming others into a relationship with God and with a community of faith. The truth is that this act is really quite simple: we can use our gift of hospitality to invite our friends to come enjoy something we enjoy. I believe there are a lot of people out there who would love our church just as much as we do, if we gave them a chance.

I will end where I began: I love my Church. And I think others would love it, too!