Extending the Invitation
Hopefully, you don’t preach just to hear yourself talk. You want to influence those who listen to you. You preach because you’re called, and you’re called in order to make an eternal impact. Therefore, you don’t want to give a nice “talk” that people aren’t challenged to do anything with and forget about on their way to lunch at the Cracker Barrel. You want to invite them to respond. You want to give an opportunity for your hearers to react to what the Spirit of God is doing in their hearts as a result of the preached Word.
Let me invite you to think through how to extend the invitation for every sermon you preach (see what I did there?). Consider eight random thoughts on the invitation:
#1. Expect and Assume.
God loves the people you are preaching to infinitely more than you do. His Word will not return void. He is alive and has sent His Spirit to work throughout the world. Expect the Spirit of God to be at work and assume people will respond. Jesus Himself said that the harvest is plentiful.
#2. Shoot with a Rifle.
When it comes to what you want your hearers to do, narrow your focus as much as possible. If you close every sermon with a blast of 20 things you need to do, your people will tune you out, start closing their Bibles, and salivate as they think about the rolls at the restaurant. Be as pointed and focused as possible when calling for a response.
#3. Let it Flow.
Related to #2, let what you invite the congregation to do flow directly from the truth(s) presented in Scripture. You don’t have to “dream up” what you want them to do each and every week. It’s there in the text. Let your call for a response flow from the sermon itself.
#4. Connect the Dots.
Show the congregation why you are inviting them to respond a certain way. If you are shooting with a rifle (#2) and allowing the invitation to flow from the text (#3), you will be able to connect for your hearers why you are inviting them to respond the way you are. This will also put the authority and “blame,” if you will, on the text. In other words, it shows the audience that you aren’t making something up to prove a point.
#5. Make it Christian.
A great question to ask yourself as you prepare the invitation is, “If a religious Jew were sitting in the congregation, would he agree with everything I have said?” If the answer to that question is “yes,” you haven’t finished preparing. Jesus is the hero and center of everything in the Bible. For believers, every invitation needs to be presented through a “Jesus lens.” For unbelievers, they need to know that only Jesus can rescue and redeem. I am not saying a drawn out “plan of salvation” needs to be communicated every Sunday (see #6). But you definitely want your hearers to know that Jesus is our only hope for help.
#6. Plan Ahead.
Depending on the sermon, the service, or the event(s) surrounding the day (Easter, Christmas, etc.) you will want to make sure you are prepared. Decision counselors. Prayer counselors. Other ministers. If you have a room people can go to and respond, have the room and the people in the room equipped and ready. If you have people come to the front of the sanctuary, have people ready to move off the front pews. If you have people fill out information cards, have them ready and available. In other words, don’t wait until Sunday morning to think through how you want to call people to respond. Plan ahead so the distractions and obstacles are minimal.
#7. Don’t Forget the Church.
Some people will be there who (a) have trusted Christ already, (b) aren’t sure about Jesus yet, (c) didn’t pay attention much to the content of the sermon, and/or (d) have been attending for a few weeks. They simply want to know what’s involved in the membership process. Or, they want to know who they can talk to about some of the questions they have. When extending the invitation, point to where these people might go or at least have it visible so they aren’t wandering out of the service (again!) without having their questions answered.
#8. You’re Not Billy.
It’s true. I hate to break it to you. I wish it weren’t true. But it is: You aren’t Billy Graham. Every preacher’s dream is to call for a response and see the masses walk forward, indicating their desire to follow Jesus. But alas, it rarely happens. In fact, for me, it hasn’t happened yet! I don’t say this to discourage, but rather to bring freedom. Relax. It’s okay. Do all you can to set the table for people to respond to the preached Word. Work hard to plan ahead. Exalt Jesus and call people to respond to Him. Give people an opportunity to respond specifically. Pray for the Spirit to draw. Expect and assume. But be okay when revival doesn’t break out each week.
Now, I invite YOU to respond. What else would you add? What have some of you seen or tried that would be helpful for other preachers?