Pots of blooming bulbs greet me as I walk into Walmart. Last month’s heart-shaped boxes of chocolate have been replaced with jelly beans, pastel peeps, and chocolate rabbits. Displays at the end of the aisles feature stuffed bunnies and lambs. And at church, there’s the annual push to invite guests to the Easter service.
This year, Easter (aka “Resurrection Sunday”) falls on March 27. That’s only a couple of weeks away. If we are going to invite anyone to church, we’d better hop to it.
I struggle with the whole “invite your friends to church” thing. The challenge isn’t in the inviting—I’m all for that. In fact, God first got my attention because a cute guy in my dorm invited me to church! The problem is that my closest friends already go to church. I don’t have anyone to invite.
On my recent trip west I visited two churches, one in California and one in Washington. Interestingly, the sermons at both churches were on the same topic—how do we meet and become friends with non-Christians? The second church even handed out 3 x 5 cards so we could list the three people we plan to pray for, then invite for Easter. I looked at the blank card in my hand and couldn’t think of anyone to write down.
Apparently, the pastor anticipated this issue, and the rest of the sermon was on ways to meet people: chatting with our neighbors and coworkers, working out at the gym, participating in recreational sports (either yourself or cheering for your kids), carpooling, and volunteering.
While I’m an introvert (I tend to assume that people won’t want to hang out with me), I still found her list helpful. In fact, I’m already doing many of the things suggested—I’ve become friends with some of the women who work out at the same time I do, and I’ve met many wonderful people as a master gardener and through our local Audubon chapter.
Meeting potential friends isn’t enough, however. We have to initiate a friendship, then cultivate it. That means making time in our busy schedules so we can spend time together. Schedule an outing. Invite them over for a meal. It seems weird and awkward to invite someone to church if we’ve never invited them to our homes (or anywhere else) first.
Even better, we can decide that we’re willing to go out of our way to meet their needs. Are they sick? Bring them chicken soup. Are they heading out of town? Offer to care for their garden and pets. Drive them around while their car is in the shop. You get the idea.
I used to freak out when forced to spend time making small talk. I’m just not very good at it. But then I learned that I don’t need to talk that much. I need to listen. I now have a memorized list of simple, open-ended questions that will get the other person talking. Where did they grow up? Where did they go to school, and what was their major (and why)? How did they meet their spouse? Where do they like to go on vacation? Given a day off, what would they love to do? What are their interests? It may take some probing, but once you’ve hit on what gets them excited, watch their face light up!
Of course, you need to actively listen to their answers, too. Then follow up with more questions, so they know you’re interested. Asking about their favorite pastime (or their grandkids!) is a surefire way to make a good impression.
Last but most important, pray. Pray for opportunities to share your love—before you share your faith. Pray for their needs (and gently let them know you’re praying). Pray for a receptive heart. You can be the best friend ever, but a change of heart requires the work of the Holy Spirit.
The one thing we don’t want to do is to make the person into a project. There’s a real danger in befriending someone just so you can evangelize them. People aren’t stupid. They’ll figure out that you’re a phony, and end up further from God than they were when you met them.
Don’t think of them as your “non-Christian friends”—just consider them friends, period. Then, when you’ve hung out together, shared meals, seen one another’s messy houses… when you’ve gone shopping, or hiking, or birding (or whatever you have in common) together—then it’s only natural to invite them to go to church together, too.
I’m not sure I’ll bring a friend to church with me this Easter, but I’ve been writing to myself here. Maybe by next year, I’ll have so many people accept my invitation that we’ll have to reserve the entire row!