Have you ever wondered how you could improve the effectiveness of your preaching? Improving the invitation may be one of the keys. An invitation is simply a speaker persuading and convincing an audience to respond to, obey, and receive the Word of God, and to seek God as a result. Biblical illustrations abound. I like Joshua’s invitation in Joshua 24; Peter’s in Acts 2; and Paul’s in Acts 17. Elijah’s on Mt. Carmel was quite effective as well. Jesus’ ministry is filled with them too! A preaching service should have an invitation for a variety of reasons, including prayer, repentance, counsel, encouragement, and salvation. How do you give one effectively? Here are five keys.
The first key is to have an effective and well-developed message. A well-developed message will have a clear explanation of the truth of the text based on a well-developed proposition or point. A proposition is a one-sentence summary of the entire text and message. It summarizes the text. It communicates your intentions as the speaker. It provides a solid foundation for developing the text and the message. It is essential in providing a platform for practical application. Which leads to a second key:
The second key is to have a clear and effective application. Once you understand your text enough to summarize it in a single-sentence proposition and subsequently explain the text in clear and simple terminology, you should carefully and specifically apply it to the everyday lives of your audience. I personally shoot to have at least three applications. My pastor recently preached a message about “representing Christ” and in his application talked with us about our soul-winning, about our parenting, and about our finances. Perhaps it will help to ask questions as you prepare your message. Based on the teaching of this passage, what do I want to encourage the audience to do? How will this apply to their lives and help them to become better Christians if they obey? And so forth.
The third key is to be well-prepared in every detail. Pray over your invitation. Plan it carefully. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given in regards to this matter was this: write it down. Write it down! As you do so, explain things very simply. Make your invitation clear and simple. Don’t assume your audience knows what you mean. If you are asking people to pray, tell them so. If you are inviting them to meet a counselor, explain where and how and who. Carefully prepare everything. Communicate your intentions with your musicians. Communicate to your staff. Communicate with those running the PA system. My invitation will often begin with these words: “Would you now stand with me and simply bow your heads in the spirit of prayer. Before I pray, can I ask you a few simple questions?” And so forth. The more prepared you are the more effective you will be!
The fourth key is to have well-trained counselors. A counselor is someone who is ready and available to help someone from the Bible! Train them to be ready. Train them in the basics of leading a sinner to faith in Christ. Train them to pray. Train them to follow-up! Train them to be aware of the needs of people in the church. Sometimes the best “invitations” happen when the service has ended and a counselor who is sensitive to the needs around them reaches out in love! None of this happens by accident. Training is vital.
The final key is to learn to be Spirit-lead. It is His Word. He loves people and desires to work in their lives and knows the very thoughts of their hearts. As you learn to listen to His voice and to follow His lead, He will direct you in regards to your invitations. I have paused on more than a few occasions and simply knelt for a moment of prayer to seek His leading. I urge you to do the same.
Inviting people to respond to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word is super-important. The format can vary greatly. Many give “come-forward” invitations. Some give “go backward” ones (i.e. to the back of the auditorium)! Some have prayer stations in a separate section of the auditorium. Some have used ‘inquiry rooms’ staffed by well-trained counselors. No matter which method you may use, I challenge you to be as effective as you can be.