Does it make you nervous to think about inviting others to church with you? I recently had a conversation with a few friends about inviting others to church and the reasons that keep us from doing it more often.
I’m sure you can relate to some of the reasons that came up. Someone said they felt like it seemed pushy. Another said that the people they know who are interested in church already have a church community, and others in their lives aren’t interested in becoming involved. In fact, some people we know just simply don’t share our beliefs and readily express their doubts and grievances anytime the subject of religion comes up. This often leaves us feeling discouraged and unmotivated to step back out of our comfort zones by inviting people.
But even in the face of all these valid feelings, we all agreed that we’ve been impacted by the way the Spirit moves in our community at Grace Church. In fact, each of us had a special story or sentiment to share about a time in our lives when we felt particularly moved by a message relating to Easter or Christmas. So, we wondered—what can we do to get past these barriers and begin extending more invitations to those who might also find hope and healing by joining us?
What I noticed after that conversation is that remembering key moments of impact in my faith journey changed my posture. I felt more open to wanting to invite others. A simple reflection reminded me that I can be intentional about achieving this posture by spending time offering thanks to God for the spiritual impact worship, bible teaching, and preaching have had in my own life. Practicing gratitude regarding these blessings in our lives goes a long way toward calming our nerves and opening up to the Spirit—maybe even by feeling inspired to tell someone about our upcoming Easter celebrations.
But maybe some of us don’t feel led to invite others for a different reason. For some, inviting others seems out of the question simply because they relate more to those with doubts than those who have wonderful stories to share about the development of their faith. It’s easy for me to forget that as I look out over the congregation on any given Sunday morning, we’re not all in the same place.
You know what? It was the same case with Jesus’ closest disciples after His resurrection. We can verify this in Matthew 28:16-17, ”Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!” Jesus knows the human struggle, and He expects us to wrestle with doubt. Get this: He still sent all of those disciples out with blessings of encouragement!
So even if you feel like your doubts outweigh your beliefs at this point, I’d still encourage you to give gratitude a try. I could point you to Old Testament laws, the Psalms, several warnings from the prophets, and even the teachings of Jesus that instruct us to offer thanks. But I can also point you to science and its mountain of evidence revealing the link between gratefulness and living a longer, healthier, and more fulfilling life.
Researcher and Author Brené Brown, who has spent over 12 years in research and collected more than 11,000 pieces of data, has found that practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives. She reports that people who describe themselves as joyful share in common a tangible gratitude practice. She gives examples like journaling or stating one thing we’re thankful for at a regular time each day, such as around the dinner table or when the clock hits 12:34 p.m.
Several university medical studies have uncovered evidence that expressing gratitude can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body's ability to relax and enter a state of rest and healing. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system benefits the body in various ways like maintaining healthy blood pressure, getting better quality sleep, improving the immune system, feeling more energetic, and even stabilizing blood sugar to name a few.
Whether or not you’re all-in on the religion thing yet, I think we can all be on board with reaping the benefits of practicing gratitude. I’ll start with this: I’m grateful that God has filled me with faith in my journey, and I’m also deeply appreciative that the spiritual community at Grace Church has always been inviting for those who don’t feel filled yet. When I walked through these doors for the first time, that was me. If Grace Church hadn’t been a safe and welcoming place for the skeptics, then many of us wouldn’t be here now eagerly desiring to invite others and gratefully saying to those who join us, “We’re glad you’re here.”