However successful the Back to Church initiative has been, it will never fulfil its potential with church-goers paralysed by fear of rejection.
So said the project’s developer Michael Harvey, author of Creating a Culture of Invitation (Monarch). Over the past 11 years Harvey, who has developed the concept of invitation as a mission tool across 17 countries, carried out hundreds of focus groups and training sessions – asking people why they do not invite their friends and family to church.
‘I found Christians paralysed by anxiety,’ said Harvey. ‘Their sublimated fears, perhaps related to previous rejections, are projected onto the church. Would-be inviters view it as unattractive, not “fit for purpose” and unwelcoming.’
The result is Harvey’s book which explores rejection and acceptance, and looks at some best-practice ideas for establishing a culture of invitation.
‘People are not prepared to invite until their fellow congregational members and church are perfect,’ he said. ‘Perfectionism is riven through the church and this cannot be right. The Bible says where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be present. It does not say where two or three are gathered in my name, doing it perfectly well, I will be present. The church is never going to be perfect.’
It is estimated that one million invitations have been offered and thousands of people have been added to the church through the Back to Church project. However, Harvey points to psychological projection, a theory in psychology, in which humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.
‘Christians deny the existence of fear within themselves but attribute the real problem to the church,’ he said. ‘They are waiting for the perfect moment, or the right time to invite. If we keep waiting, nothing can go wrong. The name of the game is safety and not the risk of faith. The Apostle Paul warned about timidity. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.’