This summer at New Wine I had the privilege of listening to Michael Harvey. I quickly appreciated that the heartbeat of Michael’s life and vision resonated with all that we are about as an Activate team. As a result I’ve asked him to share his story with us to further encourage us to become an inviting and relational people…..enjoy!
I was invited to church in 1971 by my mum as an eight year old boy. I was brought up by my Grandmother and never lived with my mum or knew my father. So my mum’s invite was vital. The church to which I was invited had some wonderful men and women who mentored me into a faith with Jesus. I remember at the age of 11, they Youth Leader called Frank who became my spiritual father came to me and said if you start coming to church on a Sunday evening you qualify for the church football team! I started attending on a Sunday evening. Later Frank invited me to Bible Club on a Friday evening using the fact that I could play table tennis afterwards. Frank eventually married Ann and after my mum died suddenly and Grand mother suffered from dementia, Ann and Frank became my spiritual parents.
They believed in me before I believed in myself and they drew out of me gifts and abilities that were lying dormant and as I moved into my twenties these invitations transformed the life of a boy battling rejection. One of the gifts to emerge was something that was going to play a part in the creation of the single largest local-church initiative in the world. It is the gift of being assiduous. The dictionary explains the word as constant in application and attention, someone who undertakes something with perseverance and care.
I became involved in with the idea of an invitational Sunday when I received a phone call in late 2003 from my friend Gillian Oliver the then Communications Director for the Bishop of Manchester who had been searching for ways to get the church moving forward. I was immediately taken with the idea, not just because of the simplicity of it but because of the excitement I heard in her voice. Gillian altered my life by asking me to get involved and inviting me to take the idea to Church Leaders. In the first year 160 churches in Manchester accepted an invitation to pilot something we named Back to Church Sunday. This resulted in approximately 2,000 people accepting an invitation to come to church. This was clearly surprising, but a bigger surprise came in year two when 80 of the 160 participating in year one dropped out. Thus my journey began to try and understand why churches drop out of mission activities and why we congregational members don’t invite. In the meantime I flew from country to country taking the idea and spreading it far and wide but I needed every bit of my assiduous gifting as I received rejection after rejection along the pathway. Stories are generally told on success and certainly Back to Church Sunday has seen hundreds of thousands of invitations accepted, it has now spread to 17 countries across five continents. I have visitedAustralia, Singapore, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, theUnited States and into mainland Europe. But all the inviting is only being done by 20% of congregational members and every year we lose thousands of participating churches. My research has focussed on one question which I ask both congregations and church leaders. “Why don’t we invite people to church?” I get a different answer from each. Church leaders main answer is that the “act of worship might be variable in its quality”. Congregational member’s main answer is “fear of rejection”. The big surprise for me was that even in bigger churches that one might consider having a act of worship to which you might easily invite someone although the percentage of people inviting increases slightly, congregational members always say that they don’t invite because their friend might say no. I describe mission today as driving a car with the handbrake on! I have developed a number of tools and interventions for Pastors and congregational members to deal with the research outcomes.
This is where the story comes to a full-circle, I persevere because out there, somewhere near you there is someone waiting for an invitation. They maybe any age, but God knew them before he created the world and wants to restore a relationship with them. Will you go and find them and invite them? You might have to experience a few negative responses along the way, but eventually you will find the person ready to say yes. I was that 8 year old boy once, and you to were invited.
Here are some links to some training videos and the book.