Inviting people to meeting might sound daunting to many Friends. There’s that constant concern about being this guy:
Here’s the thing though. Outreach efforts are on a spectrum. That guy’s ready to fall off one end of it. On the other end is just chatting with your friend.
But why should you invite someone to meeting? Surely, if they’re interested, they’ll Google “Quaker meeting near me,” right? That requires that they be very specifically looking for Quakers and that they know that we’re what they’re looking for!
According to Thom Rainer in his book “The Unchurched Next Door,” 82% of people who do not currently have a church to call their own are open to accepting a personal invitation to a church. Now, that might seem a little odd to you. If they want to go to church, wouldn’t they just use Google and find one nearby?
Well, maybe some very outgoing folks would just walk into any house of worship off the street. But for a lot of people, they’ve got apprehensions. At least if your friend invites you, you have some idea of the base level of “weird” in that community.
How do I go about inviting people?
For starters, meetings should make invitation cards available to make it easier to get started inviting people. Encourage people to keep a few in their wallet and restock regularly. Any time you find yourself saying the phrase “I’m a Quaker” or “I’m a Friend,” try to remember to pull out a card. Get others in your meeting to the do the same.
Next, offer to go with the person to meeting. Really make an effort to show up not just on time, but actually show up a bit early and hang around outside waiting for them. You might even offer the person a lift.
“The vast majority of the unchurched would gladly come to your church if you invited them and walked with them into the church building. Even if you are not sharing your faith on a regular basis, you surely can invite someone to church.”
The Unchurched Next Door, page 137
This is interesting and a good point about the comfort that comes with knowing a friend has your back and is going with you to this strange new place. Of course, the assumption (a Southern Baptist wrote it, after all) is that when the person gets to your house of worship, there’ll be a pastor who gives a sermon, teaching about your faith (so you don’t have to share it yourself.)
For programmed and semi-programmed Friends, this is easy. That’s pretty much exactly how it works. They already are guaranteeing there’s at least one message every week. Newcomers in their meetings don’t come and go, never having heard about Friends’ faith. This simple practicality is why they felt moved to their worship format.
Unprogrammed Friends have a bigger challenge. How do they ensure that all visitors know what they’re about? Large unprogrammed meetings usually have a few messages (though whether the messages answer the basics is another matter). Small meetings may go months between messages.
How do they know what we’re about?
Tracts, pamphlets, and info cards are the easy answers from the meeting’s perspective and probably from introverted or shy visitors’ perspectives. Ensure these are written at an easy reading level. Remember, only one third of US adults have a bachelors degree! Assuming a highly educated reader is liable to put the majority of people off. Remember there are many extroverts out there too.
Ideally, your visiting friend gets a chance to learn what we’re about before the worship starts rather than waiting until after (in a bundle of confusion). Meet them at the meetinghouse maybe 10 minutes early so they have time to peruse those written materials and you (or a member of your meeting’s Religious Education committee, if you have one) have time to answer questions that arise from those written materials.
How do we get people to start inviting people?
Hopefully this article has made it clear to you why inviting people matters. So what’s next? First, get some of those invitation cards like mentioned above. Then, set a date. “Everybody think of a friend and invite them to visit on the first Sunday in October.” (Hint: that’s World Quaker Day) Do something a little special on that date. Maybe have ice cream sundaes. Sit and chat with the guests while you enjoy.