I was given a book recently that challenged my thinking. The Unchurched Next Door was based on field research conducted in America where a team of people interviewed hundreds of non-Christians across the country.
. . . many of those we meet with do want to be told about salvation and will respond to an invitation if we give it.
One of the questions asked was, “If you were invited to church would you attend?” How would your unchurched neighbour answer this question? Most of us believe they wouldn’t really be interested and so usually we never ask. This is what I thought.
In fact, the research from 2003 showed that up to 82 per cent of all people interviewed were likely to respond positively to an invitation to church with 31 per cent being very positive to such a request. Indeed it was found that nearly half of those who were considered resistant to Christianity were “somewhat likely” to attend if invited, and a further 17 per cent were “very likely” to attend if invited. This I found astounding, that 62 per cent of people resistant to Christianity said that they would probably come to church with me if I invited them. Of the other groups assessed it was shown that 97 per cent of the “very friendly”, 97 per cent of the “friendly” and 86 per cent of the “neutral” category could be reasonably expected to accept an invitation to church.
While this book may now be a bit dated I‘m still left with an uncomfortable thought. Is this still valid today and does it apply to my cultural setting? What if 82 per cent or even half that accepted an invitation I made to them to come with me to church? What if all it takes is for me to get to know my neighbour and give them an invitation? Is my church the place I could invite them to?
Jesus’ commission is for all of us to go and make disciples. But sometimes we make excuses. We tell ourselves people aren’t really interested and we just need to be friendly. But many of those we meet with do want to be told about salvation and will respond to an invitation if we give it.
How many opportunities do you have to befriend an unchurched person, a neighbour or a co-worker? And I wonder who is waiting for me to just ask?
Dr Brad Kemp is president of the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference.