I keep getting invitations to join AARP. It started before I turned 50 a few years ago, and they just won't give up. AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons) keeps sending me invitations to join their organization. They promise me "senior discounts" and activism to promote senior issues. They just keep inviting me.

I wonder ... why are we in the church so reluctant to invite others? We invite our friends, neighbors, family members, and colleagues to join other organizations and institutions. So, why are we so reluctant to invite people to come to church, to know Jesus Christ, to discover God's way of living?

Several years ago I was serving a church that wanted to become more involved in the local community. So we invited community leaders to meet with our church leaders and to tell us about the needs of the community, and how our church could get involved. We even dared to ask them to tell us their impressions of our church in the community. We got more than we asked for! One community leader came over, put his arm around one of our church leaders, and said, "Charlie (I am using a different name), you and I have been friends for 30 years. You have invited me to play golf, to join your service club, to eat at your house. Your wife has invited my wife to join her bridge club and her garden club, and you two have invited us to go to community events together. Why have you never invited us to your church?"

Wow! That question could be asked of so many of us United Methodists. Why are we so reluctant to invite others? If AARP (and other groups) are so sure that they have something important to offer, why aren't we sure that we in the Christian faith have something to offer to others? And if we really do believe we have something to offer, why are we so reluctant to invite? to care? to ask?

Studies indicate that 80% of unchurched Americans say that no one has ever invited them to church. We may think we have invited them, because we have signs outside our churches, we have ads in the yellow pages, and we may even send flyers around the community. But unchurched people say that no one has cared enough to invite them personally. Over half of those unchurched Americans say that if someone ever did invite them, then they would probably go to church.

This season of Advent and Christmas is a great time to invite someone to your church. Perhaps the best Christmas gift you can give to a friend, a family member, or a coworker is to invite them to join you for the Christmas celebration. Perhaps that will be step toward helping them to connect to Christ and the church.

I am keeping track ... so far I have received 7 invitations from AARP. Studies indicate that most people need to be invited 9 12 times for them to respond to the invitation. I am going to wait and see if AARP really wants me to join their organization. But one thing I know already: they want me a lot more than most churches do.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner