BEST FRIENDS INVITE FRIENDS TO CHURCH
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, November 17, 2019.
Text: Acts 9:26-28
PUT THE PRIORITY ON INVITING
Research shows that most people come into a church service for the first time because they were invited by a friend. Statistics can seem cold and impersonal, but behind the numbers are real people. They are our friends, and family members, co-workers and neighbors. Real people with real needs and struggles, hopes and dreams.
It's a little awkward to share the stories of people in our congregation, so let me share about a man called Rob who was invited to a Baptist Church in Maryland back in 2014. This is what he wrote about the experience:
"I first stepped foot into Rosedale Baptist Church on March 30, 2014, as a guest invited by my friends Dave & Erica Bettleyon. On March 23rd, Erica had sent me a simple Facebook message with an invitation to “Friend Day." Little did she know, that just the night before, I had hit "rock bottom" in my life. My wife was ready to leave me. I had been making horrible decision after horrible decision, relying on myself for answers to my everyday problems, and in general chasing the wrong things. I remember looking up at that beautiful blue sky on March 30 just before I exited my car and verbally saying, “Here I am, Lord. If this is real, then I’m listening today. If you can fix me, you can fix anybody because I AM JACKED UP!!” That was the first time I had prayed in years ... (During the preaching), this sinner came face to face with knowledge of the grace from a loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I was saved and baptized the following week. I could go on and on with how the Lord has changed my life, but that’s for another blog! It would never have happened had I not been invited to come." www.rosedalebaptist.org/blog/invite-someone
I am convinced, because of stories like Rob's, and stories about real people who were invited to the Cornerstone and experienced Jesus and his saving love, that we should all put the priority on inviting. It's the personal touch that makes the difference. We should pray, invite, bring so that people meet Jesus.
There is a passage in Acts that shows the importance of the personal touch: Acts 9:26-28. Let's read it now and then I want to give you two keys to an effective invitation to church.
KEYS TO AN EFFECTIVE INVITATION TO CHURCH
1. Invite Everyone You Can
Invite everyone you can because church is for everyone who will come. Invite anyone and they will be welcome here. It doesn't matter who they are, where they've been, or what they've done. Everyone needs Jesus and that's what we're here for.
It would be difficult to overstate Saul's bad reputation:
He was there when the first Christian martyr was killed: (Acts 8:1) "And Saul approved of their killing him."
He went after the Christians in Jerusalem: (Acts 8:3) "But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison."
He loathed Christians: (Acts 9:1) "Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples."
Having scattered the Christians in Jerusalem, he wanted to destroy the church in Damascus: (Acts 9:1b-2) He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Would you want that man in your church? Probably not. When the Lord asked Ananias to go to Saul, he pushed back: "
(Acts 9:13-14) Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
The Lord didn't let him off the hook. Ananias took care of Saul and introduced him to the church in Damascus. That's when Saul the persecutor became Saul the preacher who took the gospel from Africa, to Asia, then Europe. We know Jesus now because of what Saul did then. What if Ananias had refused to introduce Saul to the church? This tells me that we MUST pray and invite everyone we can to church. Who knows the plans God has for friends we bring here? Invitation matters. We MUST do it.
2. Bring Everyone You Can.
An invitation to church is a great first step, but there is more to do. When we invite a friend to church, we must also offer to bring them to church. Why? Because the scariest thing on earth is showing up at a strange place alone.
I remember taking Jamie and Michael down to Liberty University for Jamie's freshman year. We drove down on a Saturday and got a hotel for the night. Sunday morning, I wanted to go to Thomas Road Church on the campus of the university, but the boys wanted to sleep. There was no way I was going on my own. And that's exactly how the people we invite feel about their first-time at the Cornerstone. It's too scary. When you invite them, also offer to bring them.
When Saul had been preaching for three years (Galatians 1:17-18), the Jews in the city wanted to kill him, so his disciples helped him escape from Damascus (Acts 9:23-25). He went south to Jerusalem, where he was once a well-respected rabbi. And he tried to go to church there, but he wasn't welcomed with open arms: (Acts 9:26) "When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple."
They thought he was a spy sent to destroy the church from within. But then Barnabas stepped in. Barnabas was from Jerusalem and he was trusted by the church there. The Bible says, (Acts 9:27) "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles."
Barnabas took Saul under his wing. He took the time to vouch for him and to introduce him, not just to the church, but to the apostles - the core leaders.
We can do what Barnabas did. Visiting church alone is daunting. Most people will not even try it. We have to bring them. Offer to swing by their home or to meet them in the parking lot. Tell them you'll sit together and you'll give them a tour and explain whatever and introduce them. That will take away so much of their anxiety and clear the way for them to meet the Lord in this place (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Invite them to eat lunch with you.
Here's how to make invitation a priority in your life. First, pray about it. Ask the Lord to bring opportunities into your life. Make a list of potential invites (extended family, co-workers, etc). Then, invite everyone you can and offer to bring them.
THE CALL TO MISSIONARY SERVICE
When I first planned to teach on the power of invitation, I sat down with Warren and Sharon Hessling, who are retired missionaries. They spent twenty-five years in two African nations. If you were here last Sunday, you heard Sharon speak about sharing Jesus naturally.
I asked them to come back for a second week to talk about their call to missionary service. I'm hoping the Lord will use it to encourage everyone and to bring praise to God. But I'm also praying that he will use it to call some of us into vocational missionary work.
There is still so much to do in the world, cities where huge populations people have never heard the gospel, refugees who are now in situations where they are open to the gospel, church workers who need training, and on and on. Interested? Talk to me.
Inside your bulletin today are three cards. There is an invitation card to my two week teaching series that begins next Sunday: Surviving the Holidays. Pray about who to give that to. You can get more cards at the Welcome Center. This teaching will help people ease some of the stress and chaos everyone feels at holiday time. It's real practical and very relevant. Most important of all, I will tell them about Jesus.
The other two cards are blank 3x5 cards. There is one for you and one for me. I'd like you to write the names of people who need an invitation to church. Write the same names on both cards. You can put first names (God knows their last names already). Then, take one card home and tape it somewhere you look at often. Every time you look at it, pray for the people to be open to an invitation to church and invite them. Put the other card in the boxes/baskets at the doors as you leave today. Then, I'll pray for the people. And we'll see what God will do.
Chances are, someone invited you here once. You met Jesus for the first time or again in a new way. And it changed your life. Now it's time to give someone else that same beautiful opportunity.
WHO TO INVITE
Family: Those within your immediate family are the most fertile ground for invitations.
Extended Family: Relatives with whom you have contact.
Close Personal Friends: The trust you build makes your influence significant.
Work Associates: We spend a large part of every day with other people in vocational and educational contexts.
Neighbors: The greatest untapped harvest fields in modern America are our neighborhoods.
Civic and Community Contacts: Manifesting biblical values of integrity, compassion, and generosity at the community level will open unexpected doors of divine opportunity.
Strangers: “Divine Appointments” which appear insignificant to us can have a life-changing impact on one who meets Christs in us.
ONE INVITATION IDEA
MY HOPE: SIMPLY SHARING JESUS
Not everyone is ready or open to visit a church service. They will, however, meet you in a coffee shop or in your home. Consider teaming up with someone or a group to invite people to an evening of hope. Following a simple biblical model, My Hope combines the impact of video programs with the power of personal relationships. You can open your home or group to share the Gospel message with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors using one of several evangelistic programs featuring life-changing testimonies & powerful messages from Billy Graham. The movies are true stories and interviews with real people who discovered Jesus.
My Hope is FREE! You can stream or download the movies, planning guides, and helpful information at myhopewithbillygraham.org