Invitation, Witness, and Hospitality
by JOHN WIGHT
When Jesus issued his Great Commission (as recorded in the 28th chapter of Matthew), he commissioned his followers to witness of the gospel throughout the world and invite people into the community of his disciples. The story of Philip and Nathanael found in John 1:43–46 illustrates witness and invitation. Philip shares the story of Jesus with Nathanael (witness). When Nathanael questions that story, Philip tells him to “come and see” (invitation). Another illustration is the woman at the well (John 4:1–20). After her transforming encounter with Jesus, she returns to town to tell others what had happened (witness) and, like Philip says, “Come and see!” (invitation). A third example found in III Nephi 9:1–3, 6 shows people having received Jesus’ ministry “noised [it] abroad among the people” (witness) and told them that he would return the next day (invitation).
The scriptures provide many examples of witness and invitation. Many sections of the Doctrine and Covenants repeat the message of witness and invitation. The gospel’s message of “witness and invitation” is for individuals as well as for congregations.
President Stephen M. Veazey shone a bright light on the need for witness and invitation when he reminded the church on April 10, 2011, that the mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most. He identified five mission initiatives that define mission for the church. (See “What Mission Means” in this field guide.) He clearly noted that all five initiatives are of equal importance. One of the five is “Invite People to Christ.” Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and intentionally inviting individuals into Community of Christ is as important as any other ministry undertaken by individuals or congregations!
Darrell Guder expresses how essential witness and invitation are (or should be) in a congregation’s life in his book The Continuing Conversion of the Church. He quotes David Bosch, noted Christian missionary and missiology scholar:
The classical doctrine on the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit [is] expanded to include yet another “movement”: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world…mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God…. Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world: the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission…. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. —quoting David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991, 390)
Such an understanding of mission moves the subject far beyond the level of program or method. It disallows any understanding of mission that makes it a sub-topic of the church. The church’s very nature is missionary. —Darrell L. Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2000, 20)
As Guder suggests, the church does not exist to take care of and perpetuate itself, but to take the message—the joy, hope, love, and peace—of Jesus Christ into the world. The call to witness and invite is not about numbers. The goal is not to simply increase the size of the church. Samuel Proctor, a successful pastor, seminary president, and former director of the Peace Corps, has been quoted as saying:
Interceding and seeking to lead persons into a right relationship with God admits no secondary agenda, such as swelling the church roster, recruiting another tither, saving a marriage, finding a new youth leader, or proving our skills at evangelism. The only appropriate motivation is being obedient to our calling and helping any and every person near us to know the love of God and the blessing of living in God’s favor and fellowship.
Witness and invitation require intentionality. Drawing people into personal relationship with Jesus Christ and his community requires more than merely erecting a building and putting up a sign. The message promoted in the movie Field of Dreams—“if you build it, they will come”—is not applicable when it comes to living out the Great Commission.
An equally important part of this process is hospitality. One must ask, to what am I inviting people? Tammy Lindle, in her book Hospitality: Sharing God’s Welcome (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 2006, 18), says, “By definition, hospitality involves some space into which people are welcomed, a place where unless the invitation is given, the stranger would not feel free to enter.”
Lindle goes on to say, “To offer Christian hospitality we will need to rethink and reshape our priorities. Hospitality will not occur in any significant way in our lives or congregations unless we give it purposeful attention.”
It is critically important for congregations to have a palpable spirit of welcome and hospitality when individuals walk through the door. All the witness and invitation in the world will have no effect if a guest encounters a cool reception and a sense that they have invaded someone else’s space.
So, what can pastors and their congregational leadership teams do to help individuals and, indeed, their congregations live out this calling to witness and invite people and make them feel welcome?
- Create an environment conducive to inviting people to Christ.
- Use A Witnessing Community which helps congregations become just that—witnessing (and inviting) communities. One specific idea included in A Witnessing Community is for the congregational leadership team to pray about missionary outreach regularly—at least weekly. Not only does this actively involve God, it is a good way to keep witness and invitation at the forefront of the leadership team’s minds.
- Encourage financial generosity to support witness and invitation beyond the congregation. The role of the congregational leadership team is to model and create ministries of witness and invitation within and beyond the congregation.
Look to the needs of your own congregations, but look also beyond your walls to the far-flung places where the church must go. Each disciple needs a spiritual home. You are called to build that home and care for it, but also to share equally in the outreaching ministries of the church. In that way the gospel may be sent to other souls also yearning for a spiritual resting place. Be fervent in your witness...
—Doctrine and Covenants 162:7d, 8b
- The pastor’s leadership team should promote and live by an understanding that the group’s ministry must be inward and outward at the same time.
- Regularly communicate the value in having new people enter the congregational community because they bring God-given gifts and talents that can help further the congregation’s mission.
- Educate and empower the congregation for mission.
- Provide training opportunities that will improve the congregation’s ability to reach out to and then welcome new people. Two resources available from Herald House are especially valuable. They are Vibrant Witness: Who Me? and Hospitality: Sharing God’s Welcome. Each can be used as a church school class over several weeks or in a number of other settings such as a weekend workshop.
- Utilize demographic studies and community surveys to get to know the neighborhood surrounding the congregation’s building. Contact your mission center missionary coordinator and ask for free copies of demographic studies for your congregation called Percept reports. (Percept is only available to congregations inside the United States.) Knowing the neighborhood helps discern what ministries would be most effective in meeting the needs of the people in the neighborhood and provide a point of connection and entry into the congregation. (See the practice “Walking the Neighborhood.”)
- Constantly remind and encourage individuals to share their personal witness and invite their friends and family members to attend the congregation’s activities and ministries. (Seventy-nine percent of people who join a church do so because a friend or family member invited them.)
- Provide at least one Missionary Tool Kit (and other current missionary helps) for use by congregational members. Contact your mission center missionary coordinator for help in using the Missionary Tool Kit (see www.CofChrist.org/seventy/resources-quick.asp for a list of Missionary Tool Kit resources).
- A Witnessing Community has other methods for educating and empowering the congregation for outreach. A thorough study of that resource is highly recommended.
3. Evaluate for effectiveness.
- As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over in the same way and expecting different results. Continual evaluation of ministries and practices is essential in helping individuals and congregations in developing effective witnessing and inviting skills and behaviors. (See “Regular Evaluation of Activities” in the practices section.)
The McDonald’s Corporation would not be successful without the thousands of local outlets found throughout the world. The same is true about local congregations of Community of Christ—without them the five mission initiatives could not be lived out. Congregations and their leaders are most important in achieving the church’s mission of “Proclaiming Jesus Christ and promoting communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.” Therefore, it is imperative to note that you are critically important and highly valued.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, and the Holy Spirit brought the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6 NRSV, adapted). Leaders of the congregation may be “planting” or “watering.” Whichever it is, intentional attention to witness and invitation is essential to fulfill the Great Commission and the mission initiative to Invite People to Christ. The Holy Spirit will bring the increase!
There are many questions that pastors and leaders need to ask themselves in order to help the congregation develop its witness, invitation, and hospitality.
One question is, “Do I regularly share my witness of Christ with people who do not attend the congregation?” A second question is, “How often do I invite someone to church or to a church-related activity?”
A third question is for the congregation: “What would need to be happening here at church in order for you to invite people more often?”
When these questions are accompanied by implementing the ideas in this article and in the following practices, a congregation can increase their capacity of witness, invitation, and hospitality.
|Schedule Quarterly Baptismal Services|
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To uphold the importance of uniting with Jesus Christ and a faith community through baptism and/or confirmation. Additionally, having such services scheduled in advance provides an easier way to invite individuals to be baptized and/or confirmed because they can point to an event that is already planned rather than making the person feel like they are in the spotlight or causing disruption to the regular routine.
- Place quarterly baptismal services on your congregational calendar.
- Refer to these upcoming events on a regular basis (perhaps as part of a witness and invitation moment in each service).
- Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in identifying individuals in the congregation who might be considering baptism and/or confirmation. Then issue a personal (private) invitation to those individuals.
- Whether or not an actual baptism or confirmation will occur, proceed with the service as scheduled. (Some excellent “baptismal” services have occurred when the value of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation have been explained and new and long-time members are invited to share about their baptism/confirmation.)
- Always fill the font for these scheduled baptismal services. Some may think this is a waste of water, but if the font is full it shows that the invitation is truly open. It also provides an opportunity for those already baptized to come forward and dip their hands into the water and reflect on their own baptism. It also allows for the possibility that someone will decide to be baptized on the spot.
- Have towels and clothing (such as surgical scrubs) on hand in the event that someone does decide to be baptized on the spot. This assumes, of course, that the person is familiar with and embraces the identity, mission, message, and beliefs of Community of Christ as outlined in the church’s baptismal policy (www.CofChrist.org/policy).
|Regular Evaluation of Activities|
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To determine to what extent congregational activities are promoting the mission initiative to Invite People to Christ.
- Schedule regular meetings of congregational leaders to evaluate worship services and other congregational activities specifically with an eye toward how inviting and welcoming they are to friends and guests.
- Ask questions such as the following during these evaluation meetings:
- Was our greeter ministry in place and effective from the arrival of the guests to their departure?
- Was our language “guest friendly” or did we use terms familiar only to Community of Christ churchgoers?
- Did the activity provide a sense of welcome and invitation to future activities?
- Were the physical facilities clean, warm, and welcoming?
- Make any necessary changes to the facility or practices to address any deficiencies identified in the evaluation meeting.
It is best to hold evaluation meetings weekly. However, if this is not possible, they should be held at least monthly. Waiting longer than this causes important points to be forgotten and only allows deficiencies to continue for a prolonged period of time.
|Pastor’s Leadership Team and Focused Prayer|
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To seek the leadings of the Holy Spirit on a regular, continuing, and united basis for ministries of invitation and witness.
- Determine together as a leadership team a time of day at which each one will pray wherever they happen to be in the world. This assists in the group feeling they are united in this process.
- Determine together a specific witness and invitation focus, event, or concern about which the group will pray. This could include how and when to hold special events such as Invite-a-Friend Sundays, specific individuals to whom the congregation is reaching out in witness and invitation, or direction for what specific missionary programs should be started in the congregation.
- Pray every day for a 30-day period about the agreed upon focus at the agreed upon time.
- Schedule a time to gather at the end of the 30 days to share insights gained and determine what, if any, action steps should be taken as a result.
- Determine as a group whether additional time is needed to focus on the current topic or if it is time to take specific action. If it is determined that specific action is appropriate, the team makes necessary assignments.
- The group decides together what the focus of the next 30-day period will be and then repeats the process described above.
While there will be situations for which additional time for prayer is advisable, do not allow the team to become bogged down on one issue for too long. It may be necessary to set that issue aside and focus on a new issue for a time and then revisit the original issue.
|Witness and Invitation Moment|
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To provide a means by which witness and invitation can be a part of every worship service so that guests hear the witness and invitation and members are constantly reminded of the need to be about these ministries.
Ask worship planners to include a time in every service for a witness and invitation moment. These can include one or more of the following elements:
- A testimony from a newly baptized/confirmed member
- An invitation to specific upcoming events
- An invitation to regular attendance and participation in congregational activities
- An invitation to baptism/confirmation (it’s okay to be bold!)
- A scripture story about the joy of uniting with Jesus Christ and the faith community through baptism/confirmation
Provide coaching to those who will participate in these moments to help them understand them as invitation moments rather than an opportunity to preach at the people.
|Walking the Neighborhood|
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To learn to listen and pay attention to what is happening in the lives of people in your community in a familiar setting. Additionally, it is an opportunity to discern ways you and your congregation can respond to the needs and opportunities where God is moving in your neighborhood.
Many times people in the neighborhood watch us come and go to our church facility. Often there is very little conversation with those in the neighborhood but God is moving in their lives and we are being invited to connect with where God is moving.
The foundation for this practice is one of our enduring principles—the Worth of All Persons. We engage with people because we are called to be in relationship with others and discover the blessings of relationships and community. This is not about engaging in relationships with a motive other than connecting with other people and being open to what God is up to in the midst of these relationships.
Take a family member or go with a friend and begin walking in your home neighborhood or in the neighborhood around your church facility. As you walk, pray about each home and the blessing of God in the lives of the people who live there. Also, if people are out in their yards or on their porches, greet them and wish them a good day.
As you become a regular presence in the neighborhood, begin to have conversations with the neighbors. As you walk through your chosen neighborhood, ask God to lead you to the people with whom God wants you to share in conversation. Listen for where God is moving in their lives. Consider offering the following prayer as you walk in the neighborhood: “God, who’s out there that you want me to trade stories with? I need to listen to their stories and they need to hear mine. God, bring me together with the people you would like for me to be in a witnessing relationship with. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
Be creative by taking some cookies to offer to people on your walk, or some freshly picked vegetables—anything you can offer them as a way of sharing God’s love in a practical way. Listen for what God is doing in their lives or what their experiences have been in their individual walks of faith. Between walks share with your partner in prayer and conversation about the people you meet and where God may be leading you in mission.
Now… “step out” in faith!
Read Doctrine and Covenants 161:3, 4.