‘Albert McMakin’ is not a name familiar to many today, yet this man has significantly influenced your life. He worked on a farm in Charlotte, North Carolina, back in the 1930s—but it is not by virtue of his agricultural prowess that his influence has extended your way. The reason Albert still rates a mention in books and can be easily found via a Google search is because of what he did in 1934.
That year an evangelist was conducting a series of meetings in Charlotte, and Albert persuaded a young 16-year-old man to attend one of the gatherings. As incentive, he said that the younger man could drive his vegetable truck into town for the meeting. The teenager went and, before long, was converted. The teenager’s name was Billy Graham—the man who went on to preach the gospel to more people in-person than anyone else in human history. Albert’s simple invitation was used by God to play a key role in the conversion of this future evangelist.
Invitations are powerful things. The Australian National Church Life Survey (NCLS) once reported that two thirds of Australian Protestant newcomers first joined their church through someone inviting them. Given the simplicity of offering an invitation and the potential impact of doing so, I think more should be made of this humble activity.
Of course, the world today is very different to that of the 1930s, and even the 1990s, and people’s individual circumstances can vary enormously. An evangelistic tent meeting or a weekly church service may not be the first thing to which you would wish to invite a non-believing family member or friend. Some may argue that we should first go out and involve ourselves in the world of the non-believer before inviting them into ours, and there may be wisdom in this in some situations. But that being said, there are many things to which a Christian might appropriately invite a non-believing colleague. It might be an evangelistic event or a church service. It might be a youth group or church social. It might simply be to a dinner or outing with Christian friends.
Unfortunately, despite the potential impact of an invitation, many Christians shy away from them. The NCLS survey also showed that 36% of respondents willing to invite someone to church hadn’t in the last twelve months. Given the clear value of actually issuing a polite invitation, let me share a few encouragements.
First, God is with you. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus assures his followers that, as they seek to make disciples of all nations, he will be with them “to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). When we are seeking to connect people with God, with the church, or with believers, we are doing something with which God is very concerned. He will be with us as we issue the invitation. This has been a great encouragement to me over the years
Second, people are often more interested than you expect. They may be very pleased to have the opportunity to come to dinner, or to an outing, or to a course, or to an event, or to a church service. A few years back I invited a non-Christian friend to a breakfast at which some international Christian cricketers were speaking. “They will be speaking about cricket and about their Christian faith,” I warned him. This did not seem to faze him in the slightest. Recently my wife invited a friend to a women’s event at church. The friend’s mother was keen to come as well, but noted that no one had ever asked her.
Third, it is worth asking yourself “What is the worst that can happen?” (I am thinking of a Western context here). If you invite someone along to something, you are likely to hear: “Sure, I’ll come”, “Can you tell me a bit more about it?”, “Thanks, but I’ve got something on”, or “No, thanks”. Are any of those responses going to kill you? How horrible is “No, thanks”? Over the years as I have invited people to things (not as often as I should), I cannot recall a single relationship that has been detrimentally effected.
Fourth, I would like to redefine what constitutes a successful invitation. In my view, a successful invitation is not when we invite someone to something and they come; rather, a successful invitation is when we simply invite someone to something; a successful invitation is an issued invitation. The fact is that we have little control over their response—that is between them and God. However, we do have control over whether we issue the invitation. Even if the invitee refuses, we have still stepped out in faith, and have made the other person think a bit.
In the beginning of the Gospel of John we read that Andrew was so impressed with Jesus that he then offered an invitation:
He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”… He brought him to Jesus. (John 1:41-42)
Simon Peter went on to be one of the most prominent and influential early Christians.
We may never be a Simon Peter or a Billy Graham, but we can be an Andrew or an Albert McMakin. Why not set yourself a challenge of inviting someone to a Christian event (e.g. church) or an event with Christians (e.g. perhaps a group outing to the football) at least once every three months in 2017? Christianity is an inviting belief.