We are so excited at the prospect of regathering as church families. Core elements of our faith like worship and fellowship are greatly enhanced by our gathering together. But perhaps the most important reason we gather is evangelism: so that spiritually curious people can hear the gospel and experience the presence of God, and ultimately begin to follow Jesus. Every healthy church knows this, and structures their Sunday so that the unchurched feel welcomed and loved, experience God through worship and community, have an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel, and receive follow-up with next steps.
Now, because of COVID-19, we have to pre-register for every church service we plan on attending. Many people are concerned about this, and for good reason. The unchurched family who lives up the road is quite unlikely to wake up early on Sunday morning, happen upon our church page, and register for our services.
The importance of this can’t be overstated:
The only opportunity unchurched people will have to come to our services on Sunday is if they hear about them in conversation and/or on social media. The only reason they will likely attend is if we invite them.
Oh wait, has anything really changed?
Well, yes. The small chance that unchurched people will decide to walk into our services on a Sunday morning is now gone. But if we’re being honest, that hasn’t happened in any substantive way in the recent past. If we were putting all of our evangelistic hopes in the basket of random Sunday drop-ins, not only were we setting ourselves up for disappointment, but it demonstrates just how far our idea of evangelism has drifted from what Jesus told us to do.
So no, registration hasn’t really changed anything about the likelihood of unchurched people coming to our services. They usually come when they are invited, especially when there is relationship. Studies suggest that 70% of people are somewhat likely to come to church if personally invited. The closer the relationship and the more Christ-like they perceive the “inviter,” to be, the more likely they are to come. All other forms of invitation have abysmal success rates, to the tune of 10% or less.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be plastering our registration link on social media, website, at outreach events, church signs and billboards, posters and mail-out invitations. These are good as first points of contact, and help to create awareness. Right now, we need buckets of awareness. It just means that they should always be followed up by personal invitations if we actually want people to come.
The implications of the power of invitation are also far-reaching in terms of how we value our online content. If someone views our worship service, does that mean they are now attending our church? Probably not, but it does mean that they consider themselves in some way to be a part of what we are doing. The most effective online ministries right now are churches that view “online” as an opportunity to connect in a deeper way with those “attending”:
“Hey, Jeremy, we noticed you’ve been joining us online and asking some great questions. Are you interested in joining a small group zoom call with our pastor where he will be taking questions about our church?”
“Thanks for liking our service. We’d love to know what you liked about it. Send us a message!”
“Thanks for joining us online so often over these crazy months. Did you know we are gathering in person soon? Here is a link where you can register. We’d love to see you!”
“Just want to let you know we saw your prayer request and we’ve been praying for you. If you’d like for us to have prayer for you over zoom, here’s a link to our prayer meeting.”
No one likes the idea of pre-registration, but maybe the Spirit will use the necessity of invitation to remind us of our commission as disciples to share the good news (including inviting people into community to hear the gospel). We’re all excited and a little relieved that we can gather again for worship, so let’s share that registration link or # and make sure that everyone in our community has the same opportunity. I’d even give up my seat for that. After all, inviting people into relationship with Jesus is what we signed up for (pun intended).
Based on Lifeway Research in the USA. https://www.rotw.com/get-facts/behaviors/71-unchurched-say-they-are-likely-accept-personal-invitation-family-member