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Australia: churches 'frightened to do mission'

Build up the inviter before you target the invitees – that was Michael Harvey's message to churches in Australia on a recent speaking tour down under ...

Build up the inviter before you target the invitees – that was Michael Harvey's message to churches in Australia on a recent speaking tour down under.

Harvey, who developed Back to Church Sunday, now part of the Season of Invitation initiative, told Australian churches earlier this month how two key themes are emerging from his current 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).

"Between 50 and 70 per cent of Australian Christians have a name of somebody to invite but like their UK counterparts, are not following through with an invitation," he said. "Australians are apt to say 'no worries' when in fact they are not only worried about mission but afraid!

"It is quite astonishing how we have lost the sense of the presence of God within our acts of worship. If we sensed the presence of God, invitation would begin to take place. I have incredible hope for the church in Australia as I do in the UK, however. There are brilliant people to whom God is speaking."

At the end of services in Australia, Harvey invited people to write the names of people they wanted to invite to church on a sticky note and place them on a cross at the front of the church.

His insights were welcomed by Tim Foster, vice principal at Ridley College, Melbourne.

"The most important insight Michael shared was that leaders must focus on the person doing the inviting, rather than the invitee," said Foster. "We must build confidence and trust in God to create a culture of invitation.

"He also reminded us that in God's mission there is a gestation period. It is therefore important to keep planting invitations without an immediate expectation of a return. His research is extremely significant, and while presented in a very humorous way, the insights are profound and are already having an impact on both congregational ministry and fresh expressions of church."

Harvey's new book, Creating a Culture of Invitation, will be published by Monarch in July. In it he covers the reasons we don’t invite people to our churches, how to face fear and respond to rejection. He also considers best practice and 'the ultimate inviter'.

"I have found that more than two in every three people have someone in mind to invite," he told churches in Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney.

"We need to better support the inviter – dyads, 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."

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