I’m not sure what I’m getting myself into. This next summer my wife and I are planning on going to Texas for our vacation, and I thought that it would be nice to have a family get-together with my Texas relatives. My Mother’s side of the family use to get together every Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s house. The last time that I’m aware this happened was in 2010. I feel fortunate my wife and I were able to be there. A part of me says that 2020 would be a nice, round, number, but I have learned some things are best not to be put off. In the last two weeks I’ve started to initiate this gathering. If one is good, two must be better, right? We have also decided to do a gathering for my wife’s side two days before my side gathers. It seemed like a good idea in the moment!
My plan for my side’s gathering is a simple one. We will gather mid-morning, have lunch together, then people can stay as long as they want. How hard can this be? The first step was to find a date. Up front I knew that I could only do July or August. For a while it looked like neither July or August would work for the relatives I talked with. It felt like a small miracle when a Saturday in July started to emerge as a possibility! I have now declared this date as our gathering day.
Figuring out a location for the gathering was complicated by not having any idea how many people might come. I thought that it was likely that my Father-in-Law would offer his house as a location for the gathering, but how do we ask a question like that? “We would like to hold a party at your house for people that you mostly don’t know.” I’m grateful that my Father-in-Law made it easy for me. He offered before I even made my request. When I suggested that he might have connections to help me find a caterer, he quickly assured me that he could help make this happen.
Is there anything left to be done? Probably the most important part. It is now time to start inviting people! Up front I know that some family members will say no. Others will say yes now, then have conflicts as we get closer to the day. It’s important not to get discouraged! There is no way to know who wants to gather unless we invite them to come. The preparations are important, but they don’t mean much without invitations.
As United Methodists, we are good at making preparations! We put a lot of effort into planning our weekly worship services, ministries, and special events. Sometimes we keep our plans fairly simple, other times we get pretty elaborate. We think about things like timing and locations. We ask about child-care and other special needs. Food, of course, gets additional attention!
Giving invitations, though, seems to be a challenge for us United Methodists. How many of our members are inviting people to come to church on a weekly basis? Monthly? Annually? Are we ever guilty of advertising our special events only in our bulletins and newsletters? If we do this, who are we inviting to come?
As an itinerant church visitor, I’ve noticed the lack of invitations. Many churches have fellowship times after their worship services. I’ve been surprised by how often the visitors are never invited to the fellowship time. I watch the visitors leave, while church members hurry to see what snacks are available. Sometimes it appears that one has to be a member to know the secret location of the fellowship time.
In some churches people gather with their same friends after the worship services every week to figure out where they are going out to eat. They are not usually quiet as they determine the best eatery for this week. How often are visitors invited to join them?
Are we inviting visitors into our lives, or are they only friends at church? How fast are we learning their names? Are we learning who they really are? How long does a visitor have to attend our church before they are welcome to come to our home?
I haven’t heard a church complain yet that too many new members are joining. How clearly, and often, are we inviting people to join our church? Are we telling them that we have three different kinds of memberships? Do they know that we care about them, and that we are more concerned about them growing than the church growing?
Even more important than church membership, are we inviting people to ask Jesus into their lives as their Savior? Christianity is not a club, but a movement. It is through faith in Christ that people are changed. It is through changed people that the world is changed.
I know plenty of questions to ask, but I assure you that I have not fully figured out the art of giving invitations! What I have figured out is that preparations, without invitations, will not bring us to the kingdom of God. It is time for us to focus more on the invitations that we need to give to others.
Your brother on the journey, Mark
Health Update: I’m waiting for the scheduler to call to find out when I’m having my next surgery. I have a large, dense, staghorn kidney stone that we are trying to get out of my kidney. My last surgery was able to break up about half of the stone. Since then I have had a kidney stent in me, which has been both good and bad. I expect that my upcoming surgery will happen in the next two or three weeks. This surgery might get the rest of the stone, or it might not. Prayers are appreciated!