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GRA:CE 2020 – The power of an invitation

One of the important dimensions of social action is that it can open up a greater range of opportunities for people to contribute practically to the life of the church community. As I have seen from the GRA:CE research, people grow in discipleship through this and the congregation grows both spiritually and numerically.

Hannah Rich (Theos)

Throughout the research interviews, I frequently began by asking people to tell me about how and why they became involved in a particular church social action project or activity. You might expect that they would quote particular bible verses or sermons or give deep theological explanations to justify why they wanted to be involved. Many people I interviewed did do this.

But something that struck me was how often people gave very practical reasons for being involved – and especially how many people’s story of social action began with being asked to join in. For some people, this was in the form of a congregational invitation; for example, a notice in a church service mentioning that more volunteers were needed.

For other people, this was a personal invitation. This doesn’t mean they weren’t motivated by their faith or that faith isn’t important for their social action, but rather than being asked personally was a significant moment for them. For example, this congregation member who talked about how important it was for them when they were asked to start volunteering:

When the new vicar arrived, he saw in me someone who is quite open, rather vocal, and… he asked me to be involved. I said yes because it’s exactly what I like doing. I like to be proactive and help with doing what Jesus said, which is be wherever people need you.”

This sense of invitation is central to the relationship between social action and discipleship and at the heart of the GRA:CE Project. There are parallels with the way Jesus invited his disciples to ‘follow me’ in Matthew 4:19. The original journey of discipleship began with a simple invitation, not an expectation of fully formed theology or even a full understanding of who Jesus was. Similarly, for many people, the invitation to join in with church worship and social action marks the beginning of their journey of discipleship. Being asked to take part in this way is a marker of their belonging and recognition as part of the church community, especially if the role they have been invited to take on fits with their gifts as an individual, as with the quote above.

That’s another thing this church does, they put you in areas that might interest you and ask if you’d like to do things. They’ll help you. You just feel needed, you feel welcome and you feel worthwhile coming. But also personally it helps.”

This isn’t only a practical expression of their value within the community, but it also contributes to their discipleship journey. It also extends beyond participation in social action. In the stories people tell of participating in worship, they connect belonging to the church community with active participation. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment - for example being asked to take part in the offertory or help serve coffee after a service – but being asked makes a difference.

Social action therefore increases the range of ways in which individuals can participate in the church community; not only might they take part in worship, but there is a greater range of opportunities to contribute to the life of the church community through food banks etc. In terms of the potential for this to increase their sense of belonging and ability to serve and therefore growing the church deeper in faith as well as bigger in size, this can only be a good thing.

The GRA:CE Project, June 2020