by Charles LaFond
Sometimes I wonder if red paint is the worst enemy of most church’s membership growth program. So many churches have red doors and many think that this tradition comes from the dark and middle ages when sanctuary laws released criminals from the law if they could reach a church, enter, and touch the cloth on the high altar. This is the premise for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Some believe that the red door tradition of churches comes from the tendency of churches to paint their doors red so as to be a splash of color in an otherwise grey and brown world. A red door could be seen from a distance. A red door stood out to the human eye (humans are very sensitive to the color red because of our biological need to recognize blood.) A red door has been a common ecclesial welcome-mat but sadly, too often, it is the extent of the evangelism program.
But this is 2018. People no longer look up to find a steeple nor do people look out to find a red door. Red doors no longer attract people to try out your church. Even yellow pages ads have gone to recycling. What is an Episcopalian to do?
There was, perhaps, a time when “open the doors and people will come” worked. When church was what you did to avoid hell, or where you went to avoid illness and calamity, or where people went to fit into a community and to avoid taxation – perhaps it worked? But today, membership growth needs to migrate from a passive act to an active act. This is a disappointment to many (especially introverts … which comprise most of clergy type-rating in Myers-Briggs.) No. I think the days of red doors being the membership growth strategic plan are over.
So what does one do if one’s church is running a Come and See Membership Growth Campaign or a similarly named program? I mean, once you’ve found a way to remind people that you are there (assuming they cannot see your red door from their kitchen window) and once you have spruced up the place and members of the congregation have pledged to have their three conversations with friends and neighbors…what next? How do you actually HAVE the conversation to invite people to come and see your church?
Invitation is important. How we invite people to things is essential for the effectiveness of attendance at anything. We know this about invitations to parties. Frankly, I do not think that inviting people to come and see your church is much different than inviting people to come to a party populated by a bunch of friends…
“They are wonderful people….”
“It is a beautiful place of meeting…”
“I love my time with them…”
“Recently, when I was in terrible pain, being there was tremendously supportive…”
“The food is wonderful…”
“There are a few people I think you will really like and with whom you will connect…”
“This is where I am fed…”
“Text me when you get there. I’ll find you and we can, together, wander the event and I will introduce you around to people…”
When Jesus said “…do this in remembrance of me…” are we so sure that the “Last Supper” was not just a sort of dinner…even a party? I mean, sure, there were some tears and anxiety, but in the end of the day it was a group of people gathered around a Savior and sitting among various foods and drinks, some of which was bread and wine. Jesus has no praise bands, no Anglican choirs, no pipe organs, no bulletins, no coffee hour afterwards. The Eucharist he led WAS the coffee hour –a time to connect and get real. Be real.
I think that just as we might let go of red paint for church doors, we might also let go of unhelpful anxiety about asking people to come to see your church. Take a page from Byron Katie’s playbook: When you feel anxiety about inviting someone to come and see your church, ask yourself four questions:
State the sentence of anxiety: “If I ask Susan to come and see my church, she will be angry with me, thinking me pushy.”
- Is it true?
- Can you be absolutely sure it is true?
- How do you react when you think that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
Then turn it around and think of three ways that such an invitation could go really very well and Susan might be thrilled that you took the time and care to personally invite her to see your church even if the only reason was that it is important to you?
Here are some quick tips about making a good invitation to a friend in the Come and See Program of your church’s membership growth program:
- Start by being sure you have their full attention. The only way to do this is to ask to ask. Do not email to ask your friend to come and see your church. Email them to ask your friend to meet you face to face. It may be an invitation to dinner, to coffee to a walk with your dogs, to a coffee at a local spot. But be sure not to ask by phone or by email. Only ask to ask by phone and email. “John, could we meet for coffee next week. I have something to which I want to invite you, but I want to talk to you about it in person. It means a lot to me.”
- Try to meet in a place where you will not be interrupted. If you have children, invite the meeting outside your house or during nap time and if you are well-known then perhaps the local coffee shop is not the best idea. You want a quiet, serene place for this tender conversation.
- When you set a date and time, be sure to email or text the night before to confirm the meeting.
- When you meet, be sure that you get to the point early on…don’t express your own anxiety by beating about the bush. You might say something like “John, my church is hosting this wonderful ‘Come and see” program and we are each inviting three people we know to come and see our church. We are not asking you (and your family) to join…only to come and see it once. Will you? I’ll meet you at your car and stay with you the entire time. It need not even be on a Sunday morning…perhaps an evening concert or pot luck might be better? Nobody will ask you to identify yourself as a visitor – no embarrassing “stand up and be recognized” at the announcements, no name tags, no ribbons.
- Once you ask someone to come and see your church, be quiet and peaceful. Do not be afraid of silence. Simply wait and be sure that your friend is the person who speaks next, even if there is a time of silence as he or she thinks.
- If they say they need to talk to a spouse or family, that’s fine but do follow up with then in a week; and tell them that you will do so.
- Raising money or raising members in a church is a sales and marketing job infused with prayer and the Holy Spirit’s movement. Do not be afraid to do this. Jesus did it. Jesus modelled it. You can do it too.
- Don’t be afraid of “no.” It’s not about you. You have not failed. Failing is not having the meeting in the first place. A “no” is not a rejection of you. A “no” is just a rejection of the proposal. Like a “no” to an invitation to a birthday party…it’s not that big a deal. After the “no,” thank them for their time and willingness to meet and shift the subject to something else you might enjoy discussing. Lighten up. It’s just a conversation.
- If the answer is “yes” then work in the meeting (or soon afterwards) to set a date for the visit. That follow-up is essential. Then call them the night before to remind them and meet them at their car (texting works well) and be their “human name tag” until you deliver them safely back to their car.
- What gets measured gets done. Set your goals (say…six invitations in the hopes of getting three “yes” ‘s.) Then plan your work and work your plan. Do not chicken out. Just plan your work and work your plan. And pray.