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Why don’t people RSVP anymore?

A friend of mine was hosting his 30th birthday party, and he invited many of his friends on Facebook. Only half of them responded. That’s just responded – half of the people who were invited never got back to him to say whether or not they would attend his birthday party.

People from previous generations would rightly say that this is rude. And it’s not just a Facebook thing – when my fiancee and I sent out invitations to our wedding last year, there were people we had to chase to confirm if they were attending. Recent generations are hopeless at responding to invitations.

This has implications for the activities that take place at our churches. The ‘last minute RSVP’ (if indeed there is an RSVP at all) makes it very difficult for event organisers to plan, cater, assign rooms etc. More than the logistical issues this behaviour presents, personal relationships suffer and people feel (rightly) hurt. Let’s face it – no one wants to send out invitations to an event and have only half the people respond.

Why do we do this to each other? The behaviour is rude and unloving, but I don’t think anyone is actively seeking to act like this. So what’s going on? I think there are a couple of factors at play:

1. We’re a generation that has been taught to keep our options open

Never before have we been exposed to so much choice and opportunity. Many young Australians can study any subject they wish, get a job in any country, live in any city, attend any church, take up any hobby – the list goes on. We’ve been fed the line that the world is our oyster, and we can be what we want to be.  But this becomes paralysing – if I move to New York, that means I miss out on London. We’re always wondering ‘what if…?’. And this can be applied to social situations – if I accept an invitation to this birthday party, what am I missing out on? So I wait until the last moment.

2. Social media has enabled us to be bombarded with ‘invitations’ every day

It doesn’t take long to create a nice looking, albeit electronic invitation, and send it off to all of our friends and acquaintances – past and present, for any type of event you can think of. Some invitations are very important (my friend’s 30th), others are less important (Friday night drinks), still others are completely irrelevant (from a friend I haven’t seen or spoken to since year 10, living in a different city, to an event I have absolutely no interest in attending!). We receive so many invitations of such varying degrees of relevance and importance, our inboxes become chocked, and it’s difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. When you receive one invitation a day, it’s not a big effort to respond. However, when that list continues to grow, and when so many of the invitations bear very little relevance, it becomes easy to ignore them. This is what I do to my peril – and invitations from good friends become lost amongst the chaff.

3. Invitations are now perceived as being less unique and personal – even when this may not actually be the case

In a blog post entitled ‘Why don’t people respond to invitations anymore?‘, the author made this point:

“[In the past] If someone has invited you to something, it’s because they’ve thought carefully about who they would like to have there, and you’ve made the list as being special to them. They’re going to the trouble of organising something, so you should have the courtesy of letting them know if you can make it – soon after you receive the invitation.”

As times change, the answer isn’t necessarily to return to the way things were. But we do need to consider our ways – here are four considerations:

  1. Clearly (and not just on Facebook), we need to be more considerate as we think through how our actions impact others, and what it means to love others as we send and respond to invitations. If there’s an RSVP date, respond by that date. Don’t wait for a better offer – it’s terribly unloving.
  2. We need to be intentional (and express our intentions) in why we are using social media for events. Are you creating an event on Facebook simply to generate awareness? Or, are you expecting each person you invite to respond? Make it clear why you are inviting people, and what you want them to do with that invitation.
  3. We need to be less ‘catch-all’ in our approach. Facebook makes it easy to invite hundreds of people – but how many of these people are likely to attend? Only invite those who are likely to attend – this will reduce the glut of irrelevant invites, and help us all from being inundated and overwhelmed.
  4. Finally, let’s use a variety of mediums. While it’s easy, let’s not only use Facebook to invite people to events – this will exclude people who don’t use it. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned phone call to let someone know you’d really like them to attend!
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