A personal invitation is at the heart of effective church outreach, but it can be hard to get your congregation on board. Here are seven surefire tips to get your church excited, equipped and confident to invite their friends and family to explore Christianity.
From America to Australia a common challenge for church leaders around the world is how to motivate members to go out and invite people to Alpha. So we asked Beth from Vintage Church LA and Greg from Unihill Church, Melbourne, to share how they’ve approached this challenge and hear how they’ve developed not only a habit but a culture of invitation.
1. Start with the why
As Simon Sinek says, if you want people to buy in to what you do, they need to believe in why you do it. It’s no different with Alpha. If you want to get your congregation excited to invite their friends to Alpha, they need to understand why the church is running it—to share the gospel and introduce people to Jesus. At Vintage Church they spend time at Sunday services sharing stories from Alpha and explaining the impact it can have in people’s lives. ‘We also show videos from the front,’ says Beth, ‘so people know what they’re coming to and what they’re inviting people to.’ At Unihill Church Greg dedicates entire Sunday sermons to the subject of invitation.
2. Get comfortable with ‘No’
One of the biggest challenges of developing an invitational culture is to overcome the congregation’s own fear of rejection, says Greg. ‘If I ask my friend and they say ‘No,’ what do I say after that?’ While this initial rejection can be enough to stop people asking again, Greg takes the practical steps of talking his congregation through what a healthy, helpful response is. ‘We train them to say things like, ‘Maybe next time,’ or ‘We run it regularly, let me know if ever you’re interested.’’ This reassurance that a ‘No’ isn’t the end of the world can help give the courage needed to invite a friend to Alpha.
3. Run relaxed social events
It’s a lot easier to invite people to a fun night out than to a service. A couple of weeks before Alpha kicks off, Greg’s church hosts a small comedy festival over two evenings. ‘Congregation members can invite their friends who aren’t ready to come into a church service—but are ready to come to a comedy night.’ At the event, their Christian comedian makes a short gospel appeal as part of the set, and Greg makes a quick pitch for Alpha and hands out personalised invitations. ‘Out of that show we actually had a number people come to Alpha’ he says.
4. Don’t make the ask too big
The prospect of joining an eleven session course can sound pretty daunting to anyone—the time commitment alone can be a put-off for potential guests. But by asking guests to simply give it a try and then make their mind up, the invitation to Alpha suddenly becomes less intimidating for both the invited and the invitee. ‘We just focus on getting people to the first couple of weeks,’ says Greg. At Vintage Church, Beth’s team have found success in breaking down the invitation into two batches. ‘We invited guests to a six week course,’ she explains, ‘then around week five we gave them the option to continue for the remaining weeks, if they want—we found that by doing that people were far more likely to sign up and come along.’
5. Equip your congregation
It can be a vulnerable thing to invite someone to Alpha, so any help you give your members could make all the difference. At Vintage Church they’ve created an App where they include recommended reading, helpful podcasts and even audio of previous talks. ‘When guests think you’re for them exploring, not just looking to hand them answers—if you can say listen to this, or read this—then they’ll be much more willing to try Alpha.’ If creating an App is little outside your church’s wheelhouse, not to worry, the solution doesn’t need to be high-tech or costly—simply supplying some printed materials, investing in some books to lend, or a just suggesting a good podcast to point to could be enough to encourage an invitation.
6. Know your audience (adapt your Alpha)
It’s always a good idea to adapt the environment of your Alpha to appeal to your audience—and this will have the knock on effect of making a personal invite that much easier to give. For instance, at Vintage Church they’ve run sessions with a wine tasting, and even a doughnut tasting! If you’re running Alpha with youth it could work to include a sports game in the session, or base the course around a shared hobby. Whatever tweaks you make to your Alpha to make it more appealing to guests will also make the invitation more natural too!
7. Make your first night a launch night
‘The invitation to our first night is more like an invitation to an event,’ explains Beth, and they print up special invites that they hand out to the entire church for just the first night. ‘We aim to make it as easy as possible for our congregation to invite their friends—and we find that people will come along just to go to a cool event and meet new people,’ explains Beth. Like any launch night, they try to make it entertaining, with a bar, (non-Christian) live music and a relaxed environment. Who wouldn’t invite their friends to an evening like that?
A personal invitation can be a powerful thing! Give these seven tips a go and make invitation part of the culture of your church.