Effective Bible Teachers know you can only change people who are in the room. You can only make disciples of people who are present. Teaching is only effective when it is heard. God’s Word only influences those who hear it. For these reasons, Effective Bible Teachers make considerable effort to build and maintain attendance.

Ineffective Bible Teachers just take whomever comes. They even spiritualize lack of attendance by saying things like, “Well, everyone God wanted to be there was there.” Effective Bible Teachers don’t see it that way. The way they see it is that the God who is not willing that any should perish is willing for all to be in the room to hear sound biblical teaching.

Building attendance involves two things: attracting new people, and keeping the people you have. In church growth parlance these are referred to as the front door (attracting new people), and the backdoor (keeping the people you have). In this chapter we will talk about attracting new people.

Invite, invite, invite

Attracting new people can be summarized in one word: invite. All things being equal, the more you and your people invite people to your group the better attendance will be. The research on this is pretty shocking. People are far more open to an invitation than most of us would imagine. It seems they are more open to responding to invitations than we are to making invitations.

This is an interesting point because of the teaching Jesus gave when He said, “It will be done for you according to your faith.” Our faith—what we expect—is a positive predictor of what will actually happen. If we don’t believe people will respond to our invitations, we are not likely to invite them. Let’s look at the research on this.

Thom Rainer divides the unchurched into five categories, ranging from U5 to U1. U1s are really open to an invitation to come to church. U5s are highly resistant. Let’s look at the middle of the scale—what Rainer calls the U3s. These are the people who are neutral about Christianity. They are not hostile to Christianity, but they are not particularly receptive either. Here’s what Rainer’s research found about U3s’ receptivity. “In the case of the U3s, 63 percent indicated they are “somewhat likely” to attend if invited. Another 23 percent said they are “very likely” to attend if invited. Do the math. Nearly nine out of ten U3s are at least somewhat likely to attend church if you invite them.”[1]

Rainer says, “The research indicates that a simple invitation may be the most cutting-edge approach we can employ.”[2]

Practical strategies to increase invitations

Here are some practical ways to increase the number of invitations to attend your group and your church.

  • Have an inviting campaign once or twice a year. You can’t emphasize everything all the time. You grow your group like you grow a muscle—tension and release, tension and release. Spend a month asking people to invite their friends and then back off. You might do a lesson once a year on the importance of inviting. The text is any one of several passages that has the phrase, “come and see.” Thom Rainer’s book The Unchurched Door is a great resource for this. You might make a game out of it and reward people who invite the most people. You might divide up teams and have a contest. Make it fun. Note that this is not an attendance campaign. It is an invitation campaign. We just want to encourage people to invite.
  • Invite using social media. Ask every member to mention your church and your group twice on Facebook each week. In the group that meets in my home on Tuesday nights, three people in the group came directly from Facebook. Email, Twitter, and text can also be used.
  • Invitations using old-fashioned media. In our attempt to be modern and hip and with-it we do well not to ignore old-fashioned ways of communication. The television didn’t replace radio. The Internet didn’t replace television. You would do well to send invitations through the mail as well as Email. You would do well to call people on an old-fashioned telephone and invite them.
  • Invite people to parties. Have a party once a month. Do something that you genuinely consider fun. If it is not fun for you and your group, you will not be able to sustain it. The idea is not to dream up something that you imagine will be fun to outsiders. The idea is to take what you already think is fun and invite people to join you. If you like watching movies, have a movie night and invite outsiders. If you like watching football, invite some friends to watch football with you. Research is clear and overwhelming on this. The better outsiders know you and the people in your group, the more likely they are to attend your group. My own research reveals that groups that have nine or more parties a year are twice as likely to be growing when compared with groups that four or fewer parties per year. See my book, Make Your Group Grow.
  • Personal invitations. Personal invitations are the hardest of all to resist. Invite members and prospects to lunch or to your home for dinner or dessert. One exception: I would never encourage men to invite women and vice versa. The stronger your relationship with outsiders the more likely they are to become insiders.

[1] Rainer, T. (2009). The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith stages as Keys to sharing Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Rainer, T. (2009). The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith stages as Keys to sharing Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan