Invitation and Discipleship
by Shirley F. Clement
Macy had been a member of a church in her childhood, but she had drifted away. She was facing several life crises and began to participate in worship when a friend, LaN
ell, invited Macy to go with her. One morning when they met to go into worship, LaNell excitedly talked to Macy about the Sunday school class she had just come from. LaNell’s excitement and information about the class made Macy think the class would be the kind of small-group experience she would both enjoy and find helpful. Macy became an active participant in the class where she felt she could explore her Christian faith and ask questions without being judged.
A couple of months later, Macy invited LaNell to sit with her and her family when she joined church. Macy had not only become a member,
she had joined a journey of faith and discipleship.
Current studies indicate that personal invitation continues to be the way most people become part of a Christian education class or other small group. People will go with a friend or acquaintance they trust, whose values and identity have some connecting points, and whose conversations about the faith have allowed honest questions. The two connections most people need to connect themselves seriously with a church are a set of relationships and an intentional setting for exploring and maturing in the faith. Sunday school classes and other small groups are places where both of those can be present.
Before encouraging all the small-group or class members to begin inviting people to come with them, you may want to spend some time reflecting together on these questions:
- Is the small group or class really “open”? Does the group really want and welcome new people? When new people attend for the first time, do current members ask about them and try to “catch” them up on the study to be sure they feel part of it and understand the dynamics of the class or small group? If you have people who are relatively new to the class, ask them to tell the group what was particularly welcoming and hospitable when they first came. What, if anything, could have been improved to help them feel more comfortable and part of the group?
- Is the small group or class a place of Christian formation and community, a place where learning and growth really does take place? Invite the participants in the class to talk to one or two others in the group about why the class is important to them. Why do they really come? What is helpful for them in their spiritual journey? Each person must know and be able to articulate what is important personally in order to be able to articulate that to others. Further, by being able to articulate the purpose and goals of the class, group members have better insight into whether that group is the right small group or class for their friend or whether another group may better meet the needs of the friend’s faith journey.
- When you do invite people to participate in the small group or class, what are you going to do to help them feel welcome, to have a sense of belonging, and to discern whether this is the right discipleship-nurturing group for them in their journey?
LaNell was familiar enough with the identity of her other small-group members and the purpose of the class to sense that it would also be a place of faith formation for Macy. LaNell’s invitation to Macy was strengthened by the skill of the other group members who welcomed Macy and helped her to become a valued and valuable member of the group. The purpose of invitation is not to swell the membership numbers of a class or group, but to help people continue to be nurtured in their Christian formation and to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ in their everyday lives. Invitation is about discipleship. Shirley F. Clement is retired from the staff of the General Board of Discipleship.