The following post was written by John Paul Basham, Student Ministry Specialist
The house is packed, the stage is glimmering with creative ingenuity, the band concludes a worship set that might as well have been a live recording for the next Hillsong United record, and the people are primed to be immersed in the depth of God’s truth as the Pastor takes the stage.
Let’s pause here for a moment and look back at what brought us to this place. Churches more and more are learning to be highly intentional when planning out each aspect of the churchgoer’s experience. Pulling into the parking lot, there are signs directing you where to go, and there are greeters in the parking lot and at the front doors of the church. Directly ahead of you as you enter the main doors you see a welcome desk with smiling faces ready to receive you. A nice lady hands you a gift bag and thanks you for trying out First Baptist of Blahlala and asks you to fill out a small information card. From here, you are escorted to the children’s area to fill out a few more information cards, print off stickers to put on your kids and all of their belongings, and off to worship you go, but not before snagging a free cup of Starbucks coffee! As you enter the sanctuary, you are greeted again and handed a worship guide as you are directed to some open seats, and thus begins the worship experience.
Some churches do this better than others but I think we would all agree that all of this is a crucial part of the ministry to the people visiting, and hopefully joining our churches. Now with everything running just as it should, the Pastor is propped up perfectly for the exposition of God’s word. Through earnest prayer, and diligent study, the pastors in our churches are often delivering dynamic messages filled with great Biblical truth, but all too often there is one great element left out of the church equation. With all of the gears turning, every element meticulously planned out and executed to the highest possible level, services across the country are coming to a screeching halt and stopping short of what all of this intentionality and preparation should have been pointing to all this time.
For a reason that I can only attribute to spiritual warfare, churches are abandoning what has long been referred to as “The Invitation”. This time of invitation should be a multi-faceted opportunity for the hearers of the word to respond to the call of scripture. The response for one person may be to kneel in prayer, for another, to repent of sin, and it is always my prayer during this time of response that God would draw lost souls to Himself.
One of my favorite passages to reference in this discussion is Acts 2:22-40. After Jesus sends the Holy Spirit down to the apostles, Peter is moved by God to go immediately outside and preach the gospel to all who would listen. The message is a simple one in that he told the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as it was prophesied, and as it had played out just days before in front of the people of Israel. This simple gospel message was immediately followed by Peter’s passionate plea for the people to respond, and in one instance, the people cry out asking Peter what they should do!
The situation is the same today. Our streets are filled with people who are lost and searching, people who are yearning for truth, and people beset with the weight of life. The good news is that the solution is the same as well. To put it in modern terms – #thegospelworks! My encouragement to you is simply this: GIVE AN INVITATION! Don’t be anxious about the response, simply trust that you’ve been called to give the good news and that the message of Christ is one that demands a response. As pastors, a great portion of our calling lies in the leading of people to the truth, and the subsequent discipleship of those people.
With all of that said, I would like to give you what I hope will be a few hints to help you succeed in this.
- Start with the end in mind. All scripture points to Jesus, so the first thing you need to do in the preparation of any message is to find Jesus in it. By having a clear understanding of how a passage ties into the greater narrative of scripture, and how it points to the gospel, you will find that the message will come together much faster, and flow naturally into the invitation. The response time at the end of the message should be the final capstone that sums up what was preached and calls the people to be transformed by it. Invitations tend to be awkward and disjointed when they are just tacked onto the end of a message.
- Practice your invitation. You need to spend just as much time practicing your invitation as you do your message. (If you don’t currently practice your delivery, you should start!) Just like a beautiful takeoff and flight are meaningless if only to find yourself in a crash landing, a great message with a poor closing can leave the people spiritually floundering. I’ll never forget what a great preacher once said about his sermon delivery plan. He said, “I tell ‘em what I’m gonna tell ‘em, then I tell ‘em, then I tell ‘em what I told ‘em.” This is so simple and yet brilliant when it comes to organizing your thoughts. In your invitation, make sure you know what you are going to say and how you will say it. When leading others in any kind prayer for salvation, make sure to be clear and concise, and pause periodically where people can repeat after you.
- Have a plan in place for those responding. When giving an invitation, you need to always expect that someone is going to respond and thus you must have a plan. Make sure that you have people who are ready to counsel those responding in the decision they are making. Have a decision card where you can document what God has done and get the contact information necessary to follow up with those who respond, and know where you are going to instruct people to go.
- Do not allow an emotional atmosphere to manipulate people. One of the main reasons that invitations have a bad reputation is because preachers have abused them. My recommendation would be to take any unnecessary emotion out of the equation. Again, be clear, concise, and to the point. Don’t linger for another 3 verses until someone comes up front. In general, I’ve found that people really only need a minute or so. Anything more than this, (depending on the context) and you are risking a manipulative atmosphere.
- Enjoy the privilege of leading people to Jesus and celebrate what God does! Being used by God to lead others to the throne is one of the greatest privileges of ministry. Take pride in the “art” of the invitation. Make it a point to hone your skills in communicating the gospel and pray that God will use those times to do battle against evil. Also, teach your people to battle with you! This should be a powerful time of petition for everyone to pray for a movement of God, and when God chooses to move as He often does, celebrate with your people! Proclaim the victories that God allows you to see right then and there. This will help you create a culture of expectation and excitement that will encourage people in their walk with Jesus.