This weekend I’m working with a church that desperately wants to grow… well, the pastor wants it to grow. He asked his core leaders about their inviting experiences and they all said shades of the same thing: “I’ve invited all my friends to church and they’re not interested.”

Well, duh!!

Unless you happen to be inviting a formerly well-churched person who somehow misses the falderal of doing church, there are few people out there just waiting for an invitation to come to church … pollsters’ statistics notwithstanding. As I’ve said before, pretty much everyone who wanted to be in church last week was in church last week. That means that everyone else didn’t really want to be in church. So why bother inviting them? Especially since they’re unlikely to accept your invitation anyway.

Besides, there’s a better and significantly more effective way.

Typically, people only accept invitations to events (functions, meetings, etc.) that they perceive will add value to their lives. Of course, values are as personal as they are ephemeral. What one finds valuable another finds pointless. The truth is, a lot of people believe they would get more value out of staying in bed than they would from attending a worship service on Sunday morning. On the other hand, these same folks find value in and invest their time in hanging out with friends, going to concerts, attending workshops on improving their lives or their golf game, and taking their children to endless soccer, t-ball, gymnastics, and swimming practices. Value is in the eye of the beholder… and for a growing number of people, attending a worship service just isn’t worth the investment. 

If your church is serious about reaching these folks, and if you depend on member’s inviting those in their circles of influence to come to church, then the church will need to host something “valuable enough” (in the eyes of the beholders) that your members’ friends are willing to say yes to an invitation.

Here’s an example:

A church in a very small town is located next door to the town’s single-screen theater. They’ve got a good relationship going with the theater owner so they get a heads-up about upcoming movies a good bit in advance. They offer a family-friendly dinner date night a couple times a year and they encourage their members to invite their friends to it. For $15 per adult, the date night includes a sit-down dinner at the church, the cost of admission to the movie, and childcare for the kids.

Of course, the childcare isn’t just babysitting. The children’s team pulls off full programming with the children that’s gentle, faith-based, and over-the-top fun. The childcare is designed to encourage the children to be excited about coming back.

But like Ginsu knives, “Wait! There’s more.” Just before the movie lets out, the church sets out a family-friendly bedtime snack spread to encourage lingering and mingling. And as the families linger, the church members serve, mingle, and build new relationships.

But the real genius isn’t the invite-worthy event; it’s what comes next. Sure, the kids go home with a handmade craft (that’s always a lot better than a coloring sheet), but the parents go home with a handout as well. They receive an invitation to a special three-week series on a topic targeted to these mostly unchurched families. Sometimes there’s a three-week series based on the movie, but more often it’s a three- to four-week series that’s compelling, as the date night was.

For instance, following one of the date nights, each couple was given a VistaPrint magnet card that advertised an upcoming three-week sermon series titled “Guys’ Guide to Relationship Sanity.” The series is based on how husbands (and prospective husbands) should treat their wives (prospective wives). The church was intentional in creating a series that guys could get into… but that women were invested in getting their guys to go to.Genius Handoff Card

But the genius just keeps on coming. Before the series is over, the church will be delivering another handout event or series to keep the guests (and the members!) coming back.

So, stop inviting people “to church” and start inviting them to church-hosted events that your target finds valuable enough to accept an invitation to. And then make sure you’ve got a handout … because it’s those handouts that can change them from an event participant to an exploring disciple who’s attending worship.

Question: What are some other guest-friendly events your church could put on? Share your ideas in the Comments section below.