INVITE I-6, booklet review

INVITE I-6:  A Six-Lane Strategy Toward an Inviting Sunday School

Introduction (pages 4-6)
The author, David Francis, explains that his first book, 3D Sunday School, outlined three dimensions of a balanced Sunday School (read the complete review at 3D Sunday School).  He provides additional ideas in his subsequent booklets, which we will examine beginning with INVITE:  I-6.

David begins by stating that INVITE is the weakest dimension of most Sunday School classes.  He divides his presentation into six “lanes” rather than steps, warning the reader that some challenging application is ahead.  That’s clear in his statement, “An abundant flow of visitors, guests, and newcomers is the number one reality in a growing, vibrant church or class” (p. 5).

Interestingly, it is found that 80% of people indicate that the number one reason they attend church or a small group is because of a personal invitation.  Likewise, research shows that 80% of people say that they would likely respond positively to an invitation to attend a church or small group.

Referring to the sow/water/reap principle, we are reminded that what we will do with the I-6 principles requires teamwork.  This means “not doing everything but doing your part” (p. 6).

Lane 1:  Invigorate (pages 7-16)
The author begins this section by asserting that most people attend church or a small group because they were invited to do so.  Surprisingly, the environment isn’t what attracts them, but the environment does cause church members to WANT to invite others to come with them.  These environmental factors include things like convenient location, programs for children and youth, a great website, a beautiful building, dynamic preaching, etc.  This tells us that “beautifying” our classrooms or other surroundings is a good investment, as is supporting our various ministries.

In presenting this concept, David concludes that “the foundation of any church or class with a culture of invitation is congregational self-esteem” (p. 8).  This leads to the first step in developing a culture of invitation:  INVIGORATE the environment and experiences.

Is this a Biblical concept?  Yes!  God gave specific instructions for the building of the temple to fully glorify Himself and, I think, for people to know that they were in His presence (see I Kings 6:14, and all the verses before and after).  It’s a very good reason to make sure our church is as beautiful and attractive as possible and practical.

There are many people in your class, or parents of children in your class, who can use their gifts of service to INVIGORATE the environment.  As leaders, it is our task to lead them to those opportunities.

The author then turns his and the reader’s attention to the 3 P’s of issues many people pretend not to know that prevents a culture of invitation:

#1P:  PRESCHOOL.  We need to place a high priority on ministry to preschoolers.  Perhaps one of the main reasons no one has invited young families is that we “know in our hearts that our church is not prepared to provide preschoolers a safe, sanitary, secure, and spiritual experience” (p. 9).  I am personally thankful to our children’s leaders at First Baptist and their incredible effort to make our Preschool Department the best it can be.  This children’s area, as well as our older children’s area, deserves our greatest attention and volunteer effort.

#2P:  PARKING.  Ideally, our attendance capacity should be about twice as high as the number of parking spaces available (p. 10).  The best and most convenient parking spaces should be reserved for visitors.  It’s the reason, too, that First Baptist invests in available property that is contiguous with ours.

#3P:  PREACHING.  The author states, “Bible preaching is foundational to developing a culture of invitation and (everything else) will be much less effective without it” (p. 12).  He goes on to say that probably the strongest invitation a church member can share is, “I think you’ll like our pastor” (p. 12).

As a church leader, we should fully support our pastor.  By that I mean praying for him, helping him with extra workloads (visiting!), and encouraging him on a regular basis.  Pastor Ken makes the Bible central to our worship and teaching experiences, an important priority in developing a culture of invitation.  We have this in him:  effective preaching by a loving pastor.  And that should cause all of us to WANT TO invite others to experience good preaching by a man who cares for us.  May he know that we care for and love him, too!

Along with effective preaching, a satisfying Bible study experience is an important factor in an inviting class.  The author states, “The most important variable in that formula is the teacher” (p. 13).  Shepherding the class is much more important that speaking ability.  This is true for any age group.

ESPECIALLY FOR CHILDREN TEACHERS:  The author provides some very good ideas for invigorating/inviting children into your class.  Read pages 13-14 for these ideas.

FOR YOUTH & ADULTS:  David asks the question that you should ask yourself as you stand at the door of your classroom:  Does my class communicate that we’re getting reading to enjoy fellowship with one another around the open Word of God?  He suggests “not making any one thing a dozen times better, but working on making a dozen things a little bit better” (p. 14).

Not only should we invigorate things in our church and in our classes, we should take care to invigorate our selves.  As the author puts it, “let God invigorate you” (p. 14).  This means personal Bible study and prayer time, and regular attendance and service in church.

Perhaps the most important area in need of invigorating is CHILDREN’S MINISTRY.  David shares that we’re facing a national crisis when it comes to staffing any age group of children, but especially preschoolers.  This is true for our own church and it’s an area in which we devote a lot of time and effort to enlistment.  Adult teachers can do a lot to prepare and encourage their class members to get involved in children (or youth) ministry.

This section ends with an interesting quote by Lutheran historian Martin Marty, and it’s a good question to ask:  A single question defines the difference between churches that grow and those that do not, “Are they inviting others to join them?” (p. 16)

Lane 2:  Incorporate (pgs. 17-25)
The author, David Francis, asks a good question on page 17:  What do you think people who visit your church say about it on the way home?  I know from personal experience having visited other churches that my family and I talk about the church even as we drive away.  Some experiences have been good, some bad (my children still kid me about a church visit we made many years ago in another state when an older man compared me to Hitler because I have a mustache!).

Retail business practices provide some food for thought as we think about reaching certain people groups.  David suggests that we discover what kind of people we’re good at reaching and if any of them are in our community.  Sunday School classes are key small groups in doing the outreach to these people groups.

On page 18, we read how church growth researchers define the term, Harvest Principle:  You reach all the people you can from the people group or groups God has made you good at reaching; and then you get them to help you reach out to another group.

Getting people INTO our church is one of the best ways to introduce them to the building, the way we use our rooms, and especially our parking.  We have numerous events throughout the year that invite people from our community INTO our church.  It’s a great way to help make people more comfortable and welcome if and when they visit during Sunday School or worship.

List some some ways we invite the public INTO our (or your) church throughout the year.  Think in big and small ways.

Visibility (of our church) is an important element when it comes to people finding First Baptist.  We are somewhat visible because of our proximity to a school and sneak peak from a main road (Jefferson Street).  Visibility also means aesthetics and beautification of the outside.  Our stain glassed windows receive a lot of comments in this regard.

Visibility also means getting people onto the property and into the building.  To follow up on last week’s assignment, here is a list of ministries and events through which our church engages the community:

Christmas Eve Services
Christmas Gathering (for women)
Christmas programs
Hospital visits
Individual invitation
Newspaper information
Outreach follow-up after church visit
Sunday School Class competitions
The Joyful Giveaway
Upward Basketball & Cheerleading
Vacation Bible School and VBS parent/family night

The author mentions that getting contact information is vital to Sunday School outreach.  Our church receives this information from the Connection Cards in worship services and VISITOR FORMS in Sunday School classes.  We also receive this information from registration forms that are used at most events, like VBS, Men’s Tool-time & Chili Cook-off, Women’s Christmas Gathering, The Joyful Giveaway, youth events, and more.  Getting people to fill out a registration card can be challenging.  For the Men’s Tool-time event, we give away a free gift to each registrant and use the cards to draw for cool prizes.  As the author says, just get their names!

As mentioned earlier, 80% of people indicated that the number one reason they attended a church was because of a personal invitation.  This goes hand in hand with advertising and distribution of information, all of which lends to a “culture of invitation” within the church.  And nothing may be more important in today’s connected world to help create a culture of invitation than a great website.

If you haven’t recently, check out our church’s website and tell us what you think:

Signage seems to be a bittersweet subject.  The author recommends positive signs strategically placed to assist visitors in finding their way around the building.  We have addressed this issue recently by placing signs at every room and at certain locations to assist everyone in finding what they need (or where they’ve been!).

Classes can be instrumental in making visitors feel invited and welcomed.  The author states that “an individual Sunday School class often can grow even when the rest of the church is not…  because the class members and leaders have entered into a sort of kingdom conspiracy to create  the kind of environment and experiences in their class that make it a safe place to invite friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors” (p. 23).  This is INTENTIONAL OUTREACH.  One of the things that makes a big difference is using name tags in class.  This makes sense for our classes that are experience fast growth because of new attenders.

Finally, Lane 2:  Incorporate, ends with a brief discussion on brand and branding.  The author asserts that churches can bear or create its own brand that is more than a name or logo.  When people think about or hear about First Baptist Church of Kearney, they should know something positive about us.  With an incorporation of many outreach ideas, a culture of invitation can be established.  And, “In a church with a culture of invitation, the members know that if they invite someone to come, they can have a high level of trust that the person will have a good experience when they come” (p. 25).

Lane 3:  Intercede (pages 26-29)
Interceding, or praying, is a key action in developing a culture of invitation within our Sunday School classes and within the overall ministry of the church.  None of us would deny that, of course.  As the author state, “it is a prescription for church health” (p. 26).

As leaders, we should have a prayer routine that not only lifts up one’s class, but other teachers and leaders, and the church as we minister to our community.  Leaders also model for their class members a discipline of prayer.  That usually manifests itself during the prayer time in class.  Be diligent in this regard.  Bring the prayer time home, making it a personal time to seek God’s intercession in the lives of whom the author calls FRAN’s:  friends, relatives, associates/acquaintances, neighbors.

On page 28 is a good outreach idea for reaching a community (or neighborhood) door-to-door.  There is an intentional action for prayer, care, and friendliness that residents should be able to sense.  Read that page and reflect on how you and your class could do this.  What would you change to make it effective for a neighborhood or people group God has given you a burden to reach?

All of us should take time to evaluate what we’re doing in leading our classes to intercede in prayer for others.

Lane 4:  Invest (pages 30-33)
The author, David Francis, begins this chapter by discussing the success of businesses that are based on meeting the needs of a special interest group.  He mentions that Jesus, too, is in the business of meeting needs and His church is also in the same business.

Long range planning is important and too many churches launch into those plans having asked the wrong question:  How can we get more people to come to our church?  (page 31).

David states that the better questions might be:

– What can our church do to make our community or ministry area a better place to live?
– What unmet needs exist?
– How might we invest some of our resources to meet one or more of those needs?

These are good questions that Sunday School classes can address by engage “servant evangelism” projects.  Some of our classes do that already by being involved monthly in some ministry outside the church.  We also promote ministries within the church, seeing great success in our efforts (e.g., The Joyful Giveaway, Upward, etc.).

The author gives several examples of churches meeting the needs of their communities (pages. 31-32).  Many ministry actions can be performed by Sunday School classes or even smaller groups within classes.  As a sign of our changing culture, young adults are especially attracted to a group that does ministry rather than sitting and soaking (page 32).

Finally, this chapter concludes with a challenge for Sunday School classes to create a culture of invitation – one that invites people to experience the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

Lane 5:  Invite (pages 34-39)

So far, we’ve reviewed the topics invigorate, incorporate, intercede, and invest.  Being diligent in these four actions makes it more likely that an invitation will be made AND accepted.

Researcher David Durey reports on a study done in Portland, Oregon, in which it was found that personal relationships were the most significant reason unchurched people attended a church.  Interestingly, “The people came back because the churches were intentional in reaching lost people, welcoming visitors, and providing a pathway for spiritual development.  They stayed because small groups provided a place for new people to form significant relationships and grow spiritually” (page 34).  In the study, over 70% of new Christians interviewed said that a personal invitation from someone they knew and trusted was the reason they were attracted to the church.

We can invite people to church in a number of ways.  New residents should always receive an invitation.  We do this at First Baptist by receiving from the city the addresses each month of new residents’ (new move-ins) start-up of water service.  A couple in our church make visits to these addresses, simply welcoming the residents and providing a church brochure.  Sometimes, follow-up is requested.

We also do some inviting through emails.  While not as personal, it is a venue through which we find more and more consistent contacts being made.

A third way of inviting people is for our Sunday School classes to hold parties and invite everyone they can think of.  And yes, we can call it a party or, if you prefer, a fellowship or whatever.  Just be sure to invite low or non-attenders, and other guests.

The author discusses enrolling new attenders, even on the first visit.  David indicates that most people gladly receive an invitation to enroll and they don’t consider it an intrusion into their privacy, nor do they think we’re too aggressive.  “They just think we’re communicating” (page 37).

David then reminds us what he calls the “Kingdom conspiracy,” that is, everybody (in the small group) working together to make a guest feel welcome, comfortable, and wanted.  What are some of the things that help create a culture of invitation?

– Never ask a guest to fill out a form – do it for them!
– Never ask a guest to stand and introduce themselves – do it as a result of having met them personally beforehand.
– Never call on a new person to pray or read (unless you have asked them beforehand).
– Always wear name tags!

Ultimately, our invitation is not complete until we invite people to Christ.  All Christians should be doing this Great Commission.  It’s something that we speak about in Sunday School.  It’s something in which we train Christians regularly throughout the year in equipping classes like Share Jesus Without Fear or One Hour Witnessing Workshop (and, in the past, in FAITH evangelism training).  And it’s something our pastor preaches from the pulpit:  INVITE people to Christ.

Lane 6:  Involve (pages 40-46)
I like what the author, stated at the beginning of this chapter:  If a church or class hopes to develop a pervasive culture of invitation, then every person who is involved on the team in any capacity should be viewed as an important part of the process God uses to bring people to Himself” (page 40).

Personally, I’ve never liked the question many holier-than-thou’s have asked:  How many people have you led to the Lord this week (or month or year, even today)?  It’s important to realize that The Great Commission is a team effort.  I plant a lot of seeds and water the crop (as we all do), but God gives the increase.  I’m just glad to be in the good company of people at First Baptist who have a heart for telling others about Jesus and who know that God does the drawing and saving.  We are just His faithful children.

David discusses what he calls the “along the way and out of the way” principle of spiritual gifts (page 42).  God commands Christians to do and practice things that are part of our normal, along-the-way living.  At other times, we go out-of-the-way to exercise our spiritual giftedness.  For example, we are all commissioned to evangelize, that is, tell people about Jesus as opportunities arise.  Those gifted in evangelism seek out those opportunities.  This is true for all spiritual gifts.

As leaders, we need to identify our members’ (and regular attenders’) giftedness and enlist them in those things.  They will enjoy serving more.  Of course, there are many things we all pitch in to do.  But we should always be found faithful using our spiritual gifts and empowering others to use their gifts, too.  This makes involvement not only more meaningful but successful and enjoyable.

Another way to involve people is to offer a new members, or new attenders, class.  We do this throughout the year with Pastor Ken’s Basic Training Class.  Not only are people personally invited by letter but the invitation is open to anyone wanting to know more about our church, what we believe, and how our ministries work.

David then discusses identifying unchurched people through our circles of influence.  He challenges us to “envision a class or group that really, really, works together to help each other do the Great Commission – one very specific person at a time” (page 43).

And the Great Commission work does not need to be done by ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is there to help all the time.  The author reminds us that the Holy Spirit has chosen to work with us, not apart from us.

Counting and recording the number of people involved in Sunday School aren’t everything but they do tell us how we’re doing.  Even more so, a crowded classroom tells us that it’s time to start a new class.  Those members actively enrolled and attending that class are key team members in accomplishing this new work.

David asserts that a phenomenon called churn is somewhat misunderstood in our churches.  Churn is the turnover of attenders as a result of people moving, dropping out, or passing away.  As we enroll new members in Sunday School, we often see a leveling, or plateauing, of attendance.  That is why growth is assumed but not seen.  The author reminds us that we need to be busy enrolling Sunday School members above and beyond the churn rate – as much as a rate of 6:1 (i.e., six new enrollees to 1 churned person).

Finally, the author sums up INVITE:  I-6 by stating:  We accomplish the Great Commission most effectively when we do it together…  We must be intentional about it.  It won’t just happen by itself.  We must do everything we can to make our churches places that welcome newcomers (page 46).

Go to The 3D Sunday School to read how INVITE complements DISCOVER and CONNECT.


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