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Why An Invitation?

On the rare occasion that a person encounters an invitation to trust and follow Jesus in a United Methodist congregation he or she might think, “I thought only Baptists offered an invitation.” It’s an easy mistake to make since the only invitations I remember hearing in my 31 years of being a United Methodist are the ones that I have given at the end of a worship service along with a handful of invitations I have heard from other colleagues. The only other type of invitation I have heard in United Methodist congregations are invitations to membership in a local church. I’d like to look at why, as a pastor, I don’t extend an invitation to membership during the worship service but instead invite people to commit or recommit their lives to Jesus Christ.

Let’s first look at an invitation to membership. The United Methodist Church has lost 3 million members since 1964. In 2006, our denomination dropped below 8 million members and we continue to decline. With numbers like this, who wouldn’t act quickly to take advantage of a chance to inflate our numbers with any opportunity we get? Membership numbers are only important insofar as they are representative of the active disciples within a local church. Unfortunately, what we see in most United Methodist congregations is a membership number that exceeds our worship attendance, sometimes by more than half. Many of the growing and dynamic United Methodist churches are those who have placed a greater expectation and responsibility on those who want to become members. If these expectations and responsibilities lead to greater kingdom effectiveness, why would any pastor accept into membership any person who decides to walk forward for membership. What if he or she is a Buddhist but thinks the church is a pretty nice “club”? Membership should be a well-thought out process that expects people to grow in Christ-likeness and in service to the whole world and it must presume a saving faith in Jesus. This is why I do not invite people to join at the end of the service: I don’t want to presume faith without getting to know the faith and commitment of a person who isn’t there to pad a resume but to be a disciple.

The question for me then becomes, how can someone make a decision to repent and follow Christ if they aren’t invited to do so? Would the wedding guests in Matthew 22 have known to come to the party if they had not been invited? Of course not! People need to be reminded of the accessibility of Jesus Christ and the need for repentance. One thing that sets the invitation I try to give apart from those I have heard in the more revivalistic traditions is that I’m not asking any one to “Ask Jesus into your heart.” I don’t even know what that means. Based on the first chapter of Mark and the tenth chapter of Romans I invite people to repent (turn from their sinful ways and turn toward God) and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord (the simple gospel proclamation according to N.T. Wright).

This is the starting line of the race we are to begin and finish (Hebrews 12:1-3); the beginning of the process of becoming one of Jesus’ disciples. This is why I, an elder in the United Methodist Church, give an invitation during our worship services.

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  1. Tom Frase
    September 11, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Amen and Amen. We’ve cheapened membership and squeezed out invitations for people to be in relationship with God through Christ. I believe when people have a strong relationship with Christ, membership will happen — people want to join the body. But it may not work the other way around, as evidenced by the point you made: if we have 50% in worship we’re some of the best churches in the conference. Most run 25 to 35%. Our mandate remains: Offer them Christ!

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