Welcoming vs. Inviting: A Church Strategy in NYC

June 9, 2016

welcome matWhat do most folks do these days when they visit New York City? Try to get their hands on tickets to the musical Hamilton.

What does a group from First Pres do? Go to church, of course. Specifically Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Last week, as a part of our strategic planning process, Kathryn Justis, Ward Davis and I met with Fifth Avenue Presbyterian’s Senior Pastor, Dr. Scott Black Johnston. Kathryn and Ward are co-chairs of the “Balcony Group” (the group of members who are guiding this process of taking a big-picture look into our future as an urban church). If you missed the story about this initiative in last week’s FirstNews, you can read it online.

Fifth Avenue was the first stop on a journey to five different large, growing, vibrant, and urban churches where we will ask questions of their leadership around mission and vision to understand what strategic choices they made to proclaim Christ in the middle of the city.

Home for the Roosevelts and a host of other dignitaries, Fifth Avenue is a grand church with a grand history: excellence in worship and preaching, innovative education (the idea of Sunday School, or “Sabbath School,” originated from a member of the church, Joanna Bethune, in 1816), and advocacy for the homeless. We learned a lot and gleaned a number of good ideas around our questions, yet what struck me in our visit was the importance the church placed on being invitational.

Being an invitational church was the first plank on Fifth Avenue Presbyterian’s strategic plan.

Fifth Avenue differentiates “welcome” from “invitation.” Being a welcoming church is wonderful – but it is also passive. Being welcoming doesn’t call for the congregation to move beyond the walls of the church to reach the city around them.

Being an invitational church calls for members of the church to engage: at work, at school, at the little league field in the stands.

There are lots of reasons why Fifth Avenue is a church of 2,500 members – with growing numbers and diversity and budgets and vision. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is at work.  But one particular reason why Fifth Avenue is so vibrant is that they take seriously their mission to tell the people in their neighborhood the good news of the gospel. They don’t wait for people to come in the doors and figure it out…they invite them to come in!

– Pen Peery