John Zehring, author of Get Your Church Ready to Grow, says it’s helpful for a church to focus its outreach on categories of people who might be more receptive to finding a new church home, such as recently divorced or widowed persons, those new to the neighborhood, or inactive members interested in reengaging.
There are many categories of people with a heightened readiness to find a church. These individuals will be most open to receiving invitations to visit your congregation and get involved. It’s helpful to identify people with a heightened readiness to find a church by brainstorming categories of people who might be most receptive to a church — for example, people who are new to the neighborhood or have recently returned to the community or inactive members who have faced a recent change or a challenge to their health, employment, or family status.
Divorced or widowed individuals
People who are recently divorced may welcome a personal invitation to attend worship as well as the company of a member. Similarly, those who have lost a spouse or other loved one often experience a heightened interest in connecting with a community of faith. One woman described how, after her husband had died, her neighbor Peggy invited her to come to church with her. “I was lonely and ready to find a church community,” explained the new widow. Peggy was wise to recognize someone who might be seeking a church and quick to make a personal invitation. Later the women became good friends at the church, usually sitting side-by-side in worship, chatting at coffee hour, and participating in adult education programs together. Many people testify about how one person made the difference by inviting them to come at just the right time in their lives.
Be mindful that walking into a new church for the first time can be a daunting experience for anyone, but a person who has been part of a couple for years (or decades!) may find it especially awkward or uncomfortable to be suddenly single. For some, sitting alone in the pew may be sufficient reason not to attend. Entering the fellowship hall for coffee hour alone could be terrifying. Recently divorced persons may also wonder if they will be judged by others for the dissolution of their marriage.
Those facing health or employment challenges
Many people in our social circles will at some time in their lives receive an unfavorable health diagnosis. “Would you consider coming to church with me?” could be a golden invitation at a time when their receptivity is high. Today, even the highest-level professionals lose jobs because their employer downsized, reorganized, moved away, or eliminated the position. This can come as a shock to a worker who thought all was going well. Perhaps they have a readiness to add a spiritual dimension to how they process what is happening to them. What can it hurt to invite them to join you at church?
Inactive members wanting to return home
If you are acquainted with a member who has become inactive, you may sense that he or she may feel awkward about returning. The inactive member may want to return but does not want to be bombarded with well-meaning curiosity or misplaced humor. (“Look who’s coming to church today! Oh my, the walls of the church may come tumbling down.”) Here is where more than a passing invitation could be cherished: “I’d love for you to see how things are going at church. Would you come with me on Sunday? I will be happy to pick you up. Then perhaps we can go out to lunch afterward.”
There are many other categories of people with a heightened readiness to find a new faith community or return to the church they once attended. Identity those individuals or types of people and reach out to them. Being sensitive to those with a heightened readiness will yield a better response to your invitations than just randomly inviting people.
Excerpted from Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation by John Zehring, copyright © 2018 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press, www.judsonpress.com.