You’re Invited: Bringing People to Church

April 26, 2005 by

In yesterday’s post about seeker-sensitive churches in Ohio, pastor Lee Powell of CedarCreek made the comment that despite all the advertising they do (he compared it to buying weekly tire ads for Sears), 80% of first time visitors come because they were personally invited.

That’s huge. And frankly, that’s why the church has been around for 2000 years.

Shawn Wood, the Creative Communications Pastor (what did Brad say about pastors?) at Seacoast, a multi-site church in South Carolina, e-mailed us recently to say that his church relies primarily on people inviting other people—to the extent that they’ve almost given up on mass mailings.

So if personal invitations are the way to go, how can churches best encourage invites?

Welcoming Atmosphere
This is the heart and soul of your church—is it a place people want to bring their friends? If not, that’s where you need to start. As Artistry Marketing’s John LaCarter told us, “If your membership isn’t inviting people to church, well there’s a reason for that.” Make sure people are welcomed, that their questions are answered, that they don’t feel lost. It’s all about first impressions, which is a subject of its own.

Easy Invites
Just because you have a place worth telling people about doesn’t mean your congregation will do it. So make it easy to invite people:

  • Remind your congregation to invite their friends. Sometimes we need to hear this message repeatedly.
  • Print invitation cards that members can use to invite friends. Give the basic church details, including times, directions and parking info. Make it more than an invitation: include interesting quotes or facts—something to make people hang on to it. If it’s an event for kids, include games or puzzles on the invitation.
  • Some churches have offered incentives for visitors and the people who bring them. Skeptics have questioned, but it’s an option.
  • Offer special visitor-friendly events to introduce visitors to church. Maybe it’s an Alpha Course, a free meal, a movie night or a daycare club.
  • Make your bulletin an invitation so every week your congregation heads home with a handy invitation ready to go (it sounds like this is one approach Shawn Wood has tried).
  • Have a page on your web site dedicated to visitors so they can check your church out online and calm any fears before they decide to go. Make sure your congregation knows about this page and encourage them to use it.

Once people come, make sure they want to come back. This goes along with having a welcoming atmosphere, but there are further steps you can take after that initial visit. My church personally delivers fresh baked bread to visitors later in the afternoon. I knew of a church in Michigan that gave fresh pineapples to visitors. A follow-up call or visit is another nice gesture, though it takes time and it’s easy to be too intimidating. (While church shopping my wife and I visited a Lutheran church once—prompting the pastor to stop by our apartment for a visit. A friendly gesture, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was being scouted as a rare, twentysomething prospect.) Remembering someone’s name and saying hello when you see them again is probably the single greatest thing you can do to make someone feel like coming back.

How else can churches encourage their congregations to invite their friends?

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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36 Responses to “You’re Invited: Bringing People to Church”

  • Ken Wilson
    April 26, 2005

    Great suggestions! I work for New Spring Community Church, also in South Carolina. We have grown to over 3500 since starting in Jan. 2000. We spend money on billboards, newspaper advertising, mailers, etc…. and consistently the “personal invitation” is the one thing people raise their hands to in our membership class as the reason they started attending.
    We arm our people with “invitation cards,” business card sized invites that they can hand to every cashier, waiter / waitress, or whoever they strike up a conversation with. It is extremely effective, and costs us very little. An example can be seen here.

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  • Shawn Wood
    April 26, 2005

    Thanks for the Post – I look forward to getting all kinds of ideas flowing.
    We have started using some incentives as a means of getting our guest cards turned in. Our worship guides (bulletins) are %50 invitation to the current series that can be given to a friend, %50 guest card. example here
    We give a complimentary CD of a weekend message, a $5 starbucks giftcard and a great information packet to any first time guest who turns in a card.
    This has definetly worked in getting more first time guests to turn in cards.
    Another question I have. Are mass mailings something that we see as a sacred cow and so we all do them out of fear that if we dont we will learn how much they work…or are they a useful practice in building credibility and brand recognition as a church even though someone may not come exclusively because of them?
    Thats is something I am really wrestling with…

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  • shua
    April 26, 2005

    I think mass mailings are like any other form of marketing/advertising… they work in some communities, they don’t work in others. It’s all about the audience.
    Try it… see if there’s enough return to make it worthwhile. If not, move on to something else.

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  • Michael
    April 27, 2005

    We’ve had much success with postcards, especially in promoting specific events to specific people. The 2 main ingredients are the design and the list.
    The design has to be something that draws people in enough for them to flip the card over…I like calling it the refrigerator test.
    More importantly you have to be sending to the right people. It doesn’t do any good to send the most amazing postcard promoting raising kids to someone who doesn’t have kids.
    Even then expect 1% return, be thrilled with 3%.

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  • Mathias
    April 27, 2005

    Ok, that’s great. You’re bringing in new faces.
    What about all of the people who have stopped coming or only show occasionally. What can you do to reach out, grab their hand and bring them back?

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    • Lisa
      March 21, 2011

      We have a Sunday each month dedicated to inactive members. A list of those members goes out to our active members to contact and invite them to come back to church.

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  • kevin
    April 27, 2005

    Tony Morgan e-mailed us with an article he wrote on inviting friends, “Is Your Ministry Strategy Creating Buzz?” Check it out.

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  • Shawn Wood
    April 27, 2005

    To Mathis – great post!
    I believe that there is a huge “untapped” resource called the church data base that has people who have:
    1. Have made a choice to come before.
    2. Know who we are…
    3. probably would come back if asked.
    In marketing language these are hot prospects! In the most importnat spriritual terms they are people who were seeking at one time and I think we at least owe it to them to make sure they are attending somewhere…
    Besides the obvious personal re-invite or “gosh we sure miss you, guilt guilt guilt” post card, are there ways we can let them know we stil care.

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  • Mathias
    April 28, 2005

    I work with middle school students at a fairly large Church. A lot of emphasis is put on how many new students were added to the database.
    Unfortunately, they are way to quick to remove the ones they have not seen for x months.
    Yes Shawn, there should be some sort of strong program, using the database, to find out who is at the outer edge of your attendance circle waiting for somebody to ask them to step in a little closer.

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  • rob
    May 10, 2005

    I’m an outreach pastor in the Greater Vancouver area in Canada, and as such I constantly wrestle with these issues. We have experimented with mass mailings (not very common around here), with little ‘return’. The sign in front of the church seems to generate a lot more interst. However, we have recently discovered that getting the word out about bridge events through our local free papers is grabbing people’s attention (note: the paper is free- not the advertising!). People in our area read these papers that are delivered to their door three times/week. We’re quite happy about this discovery as it is less expensive than mass mailing.
    In the meantime we are continuing on with a both/and strategy. We are encouraging people to be inviters (which is a bit of a challenge with our demographics), but at the same time we are going after people with whom we have no personal contact via advertising.

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  • Wayne Bristow
    May 10, 2005

    Since 1963, I have been engaged in mass evangelism events on five continents. My experience confirms that people bring people under the preaching of the gospel. Advertising creates awareness, but the majority of the people who are reached are brought by sensitive, concerned Christians who capitalize on the awareness created by the advertising, invite and bring friends, neighbors, class mates, business associates or family members. One of our most successful evangelism events is a dinner where the crowd is built by two church members bringing four guests. Those attending the dinner are, ideally, seated at round tables for six, resulting in 66.6 percent of the crowd being from outside the church membership. It is not the size of the crowd that determines whether you can reach people; it is the makeup of the crowd. You have to reach people to reach people.

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  • Here is a way to have low cost but highly effective follow up on every visitor that comes to your ministry.Simply get their email address and send them a free audio email from the leadership team from your church letting them know what, where, who, why, and how to get more involved in the church. You may want to not only get their email but more detailed information so when you send them an audio greeting it will be packed with specialized information from the ministry that fits their bio.Example: New comers teens Sally and Johnny visit an youth rally and fill out their email info card for visiting and entering into a drawing for some prize like a new cd player, and all the info is filled in are now forwarded to the Youth Pastor Steve .Pastor Steve sends a email with his personal audio message to all the new youth that visited and let them know the winner of the cd player and sharing with these precious visitors how much they blessed Him and the youth group by attending and further sharing by audio a short encouraging message as applies to singles,followed up with a closing prayer for the week that moves them into action and finally inviting them to return with a friend to recieve a free gift with contact info,dates and times for them to attend the next event coming up. Or how about Senior Pastors sending a weekly audio email to your congregation keeping the fire burning message till we meet again on sunday?.Or how about sounding the alarm to all the intercessors with an emergency call to arms in prayer for that sick member.There are also many other features like testimonial lines that you can use to inspire and ignite revival to everyone in your church. Why wait till next sunday to get a hold of them. We need daily inspiring messages and with this audio email oyu can do just that. Jesus moved amongst the market place and spent many hours ministering outside the four walls of the church to reveal the Father God’s heart to them .Here is a tool where you can reach hearts that need to hear what you have to say from God in the privacy of their email.I hope this adds to you and your ministry for the Glory of God.
    The usage of this form of media and user friendly steps to take are so easy that anyone can use this audio to advance,expand increase and multiply the good news message about Jesus you want to send; thereby getting souls for Jesus.
    You can now reach around the world or locally with this media.
    That is what it is all about Souls, Souls, and as many Souls you can reach with the gospel.Reach them today use what you can! plunder hell and populate heaven! just do it!
    Prayers and Blessing,
    Pastor Shane Brown

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  • Roger
    October 11, 2005

    Hi! I am also from South Carolina. Our church has just formed an evangelistic group to come up with fresh/new ideas for reaching the lost in our area. I believe God sent me here to this blog to see these great ideas…sooo…keep them coming. I will share mine later.
    May God continue to deeply bless y’all!!

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  • Derek
    December 1, 2005

    These are very insightful ideas. Anyone have suggestions for creative evangelism in the inner city? It seems that the majority of information I read pertains to surburban or rural settings. Continue the good work and God bless.

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  • John
    December 6, 2005

    Hi I have just moved to Chattanooga TN. My mother & father in law started a new work here about 4 years ago. My wife is the only child and we left our home and security blanket many miles away to help with this small church. Please give me some directions to go. We have about 19 people , 4 older couples and 1 middle age couple and 2 young couples. 3 children…..and a beautiful church building and land….. Thank God…..

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  • jjjj full
    January 21, 2006

    I would like to know how can I increase the population in the church if the people don’t want to come?

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  • Todd Jones
    March 22, 2006

    As has been said many times before, the most effective form of publicity is word of mouth/personal invitation. Personally, I feel anything beyond that is just about a gimmick. Granted, sometimes they work, but the percentages of success lean WAY toward personal invitation. Our church has tried mass mailings, commercials, ads, you name it. Two things we found to be successful in inciting personal invitation…t-shirts with some clever design, and invitation cards, which we called TipSlips. Much like what New Spring mentioned in an earlier post. Inexpensive and effective. What’s not to like about that? By the way, although I did the design, I don’t consider these proprietary in anyway. See something ya like and want to use, I’ll be glad to send a hi-res file. Examples can be seen here.

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    • Willie Scott
      October 22, 2013

      Hi can you send me a link or samples that we can use as well to reach people in our community. Thank you so much for your work and love for others.

      Willie Scott

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    • Denise Stoudt
      June 4, 2014

      Would appreciate a Hi-res file of your personal invite

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  • John
    October 26, 2006

    Great blog site. The congergations where I severe is 90% older generation, that is 55+. What can we do about church growth.

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  • Phil Tate
    April 19, 2007

    Hi thank you very much for this great blog! Come on guys keep it flowing we need good advertising for the greatest message on earth! I made this very simple website which took a couple of days with a mate we’ve seen a lady give her life to Christ and connected with a local church already we made simple contact cards based on the London tube tickets check out “The church has nothing to do but save souls so save as many as you can!” – John Wesley

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  • Gillian Whyte
    May 2, 2007

    I am really glad i have found this blog. I am currenlty in the process of sending out personal invitations and was searching the internet for some advice. I like the samples that Tod Jones has at his Url address. I would love to use one that i see on it. Can you forward the hi-res file?

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  • Jarrod
    March 8, 2010

    Hey…I think we miss the mark when we treat church like a business or a corporation…invites are great, in my opinion, but not at the expense of sharing our lives with people. I believe the reason the 1st century church ‘added to their number daily those who were being saved’, was because of what we read in Acts 2:42-47. There are ‘mega-churches’ popping up all over the place, but unfortunately they are growing in numbers of attendees, not disciples. I think it’s sad that the goal is to grow in number more so than it is for people’s lives to radically change. My sister belongs to a church in Frisco, Texas that is very ‘hip’, they have a rock band and a lot of Small Groups…they have grown rapidly through invites, word of mouth and advertisements…but many of those who have been there several years are beginning to leave because they are feeling that it’s more about ‘Growing’ than it is about relationships and really making disciples. My sister has had marital problems and the spiritual leadership referred her to a secular Marital counselor rather than opening up the Bible with her and her husband.
    Anyway, my point is this…I think we need to ‘share our FAITH’, share our lives, open up our homes to people and eat together with glad and sincere hearts…I think we need to be real about what’s going on in our lives and take our relationships deeper…I think we need to invite people to church, but more than that we need to invite people to get into their Bibles with us.
    Our world needs people who call themselves Christians to be Christians…not ‘alter call Christians’ but Disciples who are true Fishers of men the way Jesus taught his disciples. Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts.
    Thanks for the discussion!
    Sincerely ~

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    • Jose
      October 12, 2012

      AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.True that.

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    • Linda
      July 11, 2014

      Hello, after reading so many ideas about how to invite people to church. The only one that stuck in my head was this one, because, all we do think about is the number and not really the person. If the seats are full we must be doing a good job. That’s not true, because if the seats are full and no one life has changed, then it’s all been for NOTHING!!!!! My church is here in Alabama and we are having a hard time bring in people. All these big mega churches seem to have no problem bring people in but are they being fed the true word of God? Alot of people like a show, that’s not what our church is about we are about winning souls for Christ. Thanks for the ideas. God Bless you and much success in everyones soul winning efforts.

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  • Sarah
    May 4, 2010

    Hello! I’m the administrative assistant to youth ministries at my church. And I’m in my mid 20s and there is a HUGE lack of support for the 20-30 age range. What is a good way to get the church to hear our voices and to recognize the importance of keeping things exciting and inviting for people my age?

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  • Ellen
    May 30, 2011

    I believe that if a church wants people to come to their church for a service on a Sunday, I guess it can’t hurt to have members invite their friends. When visitors are in the church, the community should be warm and inviting. I think that a great way to get the church started on welcoming visitors is to have a welcoming committee at the church that would allow any questions that the visitors might have. A great idea may be to offer a church tour to the visitors. Don’t assume that because your church has some visitors that they want to join. They may be just “passing by” at the request of a friend. I have a friend that used to bug me to go to her church when I didn’t go that often. She will still ask me now even though I now go to a church regularly. I don’t know if she is maybe hopeful that I will leave my church and go to hers.

    I believe that if a church is looking for new members, they should refrain from using the recruitment method. To me that is too intimidating and intrusive. While taking cookies to someone’s house or apartment may seem warm and appreciative, I would take it a as a bribe. “Oh, you took my cookies, but don’t want to come back to my church?”

    If the church does get some new prospective members, be mindful of how your community treats people in the church. There’s nothing worse than seeing people’s true colors after you may have made a commitment. I think that this may be the #1 reason why people don’t continue coming to church is because the community/fellowship does not appear genuine or sincere to people. The community should refrain from forming exclusive cliques. I like in one of the previous posts that they have a group dinner seating six to a table. People can be group by age, possibly interests or to a degree personna. You want to make people comfortable, if you want to have any hope of them coming back.

    I hope that some of these suggestions are helpful, I’m not trying to be critical of what the churches are already doing, those ways just don’t always work for everyone.


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  • Bob
    October 24, 2011

    I agree that first impressions are most important. Many Christian frequent the local fast food places in our town during Sunday after morning worship. This past Sunday, a large group from a local well known church were in a line up waiting to be served. They appointed one person of the group to give the orders for everyone. The result was that many didn’t get what they wanted in the group so they went back to complain that their order was incomplete. The problem was that they held up the line till it was half way out the door. We, being from another church, heard the customers (unsaved) in the next booths complaining that each should have order their own as to not hold up the line. The manager had to go around and extend her apologies when it clearly was not her fault. So friends, people are watching…they even know what church you attend many times.

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  • Bobby
    January 10, 2012

    I was wondering if anyone out there knew of any site that contained outreach statistics on what worked and what did not concerning getting people in the doors. I’m sure we all agree that personal invitation is the key, but what is the typical rate of return for this? In other words, is there a ratio of invitations to people that actually come? Our Senior Pastor has set a mandate for us to grow by 40% this year and we’re currently in the planning stages to do so. I’m just curious as to whether or not there is a predictable rate of return for each method of invitation. Any ideas?

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  • Jack
    May 11, 2013

    Church invitation cards are listed in some of these posts but the links are broken. Can someone please fix them?

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    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      May 14, 2013

      Jack, not sure what links you’re referring to. The links in this post still seem to work.

      In general though, note that this post is from 2005. Links that old are bound to break and we can’t spend all day fixing 8-year-old links. Sorry.

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      • jane drake
        December 24, 2013

        I can’t get the samples either. What’s wrong? I’d love to view them.

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  • Grady
    January 22, 2015

    Our strategy has been…

    Filling the a bi product of following the scripture…

    Seek to save the souls outside the church…I suggest teams…for where two are gathered and pray in His name…He is with us…

    Then make sure your orginized and have somthing for the people to come to…something orginized and friendly…

    Don’t sugar coat…teach and preach!

    But get outside
    The four walls and don’t wait on the lost to come to you…

    Pray fervently as a group and behind closed doors!

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  • Kenneth
    February 18, 2015

    Do you have any samples where churches have made their bulletin an invitation?

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  • Kya
    March 24, 2015

    Check out We have samples of flyers that we use to reach people for Jesus. Also check out VO Tacoma on Facebook for examples.

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