Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Invitation to Gingerbread--and to Church

Why is it so much easier to invite people to church when we are doing this?

On Saturday, I met a friend of a friend who goes to church with me.  We all met to go to my spouse's concert, and after the concert, I said, "You should come to church tomorrow.  We're decorating gingerbread people!"

I just blurted it out, and later I thought, how interesting.  I don't usually go around inviting people I've just met to come to church.

But I do love the joy of gingerbread Sunday--and I want to share a Sunday that shows our church at its best as people create extravagantly.

On other Sundays, we may also be creating extravagantly--but it may not be as evident. 

But the larger issue has to do with the way that I know that the unchurched may respond to my invitations.  I don't want to seem coercive.  I don't want to be that woman who invites people so incessantly that people avoid me.

But I do realize that I risk going too far in the other direction.  There are people who would be open to the invitation, if I would issue it.

So on days where we do delightful things like decorating gingerbread, I'm likely to invite more people.  On days when we work on social justice issues, I'm likely to invite my like-minded friends.  When we quilt for Lutheran World Relief, I invite quilting/crafting friends.  I plan to invite people to Christmas Eve services like I do every year, because that time inspires yearnings that my church might answer.

I'm not looking to increase membership.  This may sound heretical, but I'm not looking to save souls, at least not in that traditional way.

It's the Christmas yearnings that have given me insight into the invitation process.  I've had the staunchest of atheist friends tell me that December makes them ache for midnight mass.  I would name that ache the stirring of the Holy Spirit--but of course, I wouldn't use that language when talking to my atheist friends.  It would be a complete turn-off, and thus, useless.

Instead, I say, "You could come to church with me.  The mass would be slightly different, but still familiar.  We'd have candles.  We'd sing the songs you miss so much."

She never comes to Christmas Eve at my church, but she continues to talk about her longing, and I'll continue to issue the invitation.

The world has a variety of yearnings, and our churches can answer some of them.  Shaping our invitations in the shape of an answer to a heart's desire is a much more effective form of inviting than the blanket invitations that evangelical groups of my youth used to offer.

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