It is a tradition in traditional churches of Christ, and perhaps others, to announce the number of the “invitation song” before the preacher begins his sermon. It is a practice as ingrained as the Lords’s Supper. What is almost as certain is that no one will accept the “invitation“.
How is it in your church. Do you have an invitation each service? What is it like? Is it necessary? These are odd questions huh?
Why have an invitation just for the sake of having an invitation just because that is the way we do it? The preacher can preach on any subject, and with no personal application, and then tack on a statement like “If you are not a Christian or if you have just gotten off course this is your time to respond”. I want to ask “Respond to what?”
Sunday morning worship is not a good time for evangelism. Unless the good seed has been sown at some other time of the week there is not likely going to be a great harvest of new converts on Sunday. It seems to me the invitation is an opportunity to respond to the Bible lesson just completed. At a minimum it is primarily that. My experience is that many sermons have no challenge to life change. A twenty-minute devotional is not bad but does not require an invitation in my view.
Unless the preacher actually preaches the gospel (good news about Jesus and what he has accomplished for sinners) it is very odd indeed to ask people to respond to an offer that has not been presented. Lost people do not learn the good news by osmosis, they have to hear it or read it to know it. Don’t claim to be a “gospel preacher” unless you frequently preach the gospel!
Invitation as family time. Many of us at White’s Ferry Road church refer to our congregation as our “forever family“. And, indeed they are. When the invitation is given at WFR it is unlike most other churches I have ever experienced. People come forward to openly confess sin and ask forgiveness, they come to ask for prayer about some health issue (and often to be anointed and prayed for be the elders), they come to solicit prayer for marriage troubles, job loss, wayward children, etc. And, of course, some to come to make their decision to follow Jesus public and we baptize them and welcome them into our forever family with a loud applause and cheers.
What is interesting about the invitation time at WFR is that no one ever comes alone. Usually they are accompanied by close friends who got to know that person in a small group or a shared ministry experience. Or if it is someone new to our church those sitting on the pew beside them will go forward with them when they respond. This family time is a cherished event, often taking 20 or 30 minutes and no one seems to mind. It is safe place where people know in advance they will be loved and not judged, forgiven and not expelled. It is a wonderful illustration of a church with no pretenses of sinless perfection, but rather is real, authentic followers of Jesus, loving each other and together moving toward Christ likeness.
What is it like at your church? Is it something you look forward to? Or is it something you dread? One thing is sure. If the leadership of your church is not transparent about their own lives the invitation will likely be just a formal part of the service each week with few ever responding. Good leaders lead by example and not one leader in any church is perfectly righteous. It is good for everyone to just admit it and stop pretending it isn’t true.
Now for the invitation….your comments are welcome and encouraged.