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'Culture of fear' in UK Church?

Early findings of new research into why people don't invite friends to church suggests 'a culture of fear' is affecting UK believers ...

New research is being undertaken this year to shed light on why people do not invite friends or family to church.

And it is emerging that fears of rejection, losing a friend or damaging a relationship prevent many from asking the question: 'Would you like to come to our service on Sunday?' or even having a simple conversation about God.

Early findings of the research project, carried out by Christian Research, will be unveiled by Michael Harvey in a presentation entitled Developing a Culture of Invitation at Cranmer Hall, Durham University on 21 January (11.15am).

"What we have discovered so far is that sublimated fears, perhaps related to previous rejections, are projected onto the church, with would-be inviters seeing it as unattractive, not 'fit for purpose' and unwelcoming," said Michael Harvey, who developed Back to Church Sunday, now part of the Season of Invitation initiative.

Harvey, who describes himself as an 'itinerant provoker', has held seminars around the world which focus on building a culture of invitation. He has written a book on the subject, due to be published in May.

Two themes emerge from Harvey's research: the paralysing anxiety felt by Christians at the thought of rejection by friends if they invited them to church, and the number of Christians who do not recognise the Gospel imperative to 'go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples' (Matthew 28:19).

"Over the past 11 years I have carried out more than 700 focus groups and in the past 12 months 60 Season of Invitation training sessions around the UK – asking people why they do not invite," said Harvey, a Research Fellow at Durham.

"I added a question – what is wrong with getting a 'no'? I started to get answers revealing significant psychological reasons. It became clear that many people were still dealing with previous rejection, not necessarily connected with church but life in general.

"We often see mission in terms of initiatives but unless we start to address that visceral fear we can do as many initiatives as we like and people will still be afraid."

Harvey believes the environment is becoming much more hostile towards Christianity and that the Church has "no muscle in the area of invitation and God conversations" because it has little experience of actually doing it. However, he also believes the Church can change and adapt because many people could become solid inviters with support.

"I have found that more than two in every three people have someone in mind to invite," he said. "We need to better support the inviter – pairs of people working together to become invitational is one area to develop. After all Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs, and let’s face it, some of those had doubts."

Welcoming Harvey to Durham, Tutor in Mission Rev Dr Michael Volland, said: "We are eager to explore this key area of mission, and invitation is likely to be a significant tool as we move towards God's hopeful future."

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