Last week we had a story about a joint effort of the College for Bishops, The Episcopal Church Development Office and The Episcopal Church Foundation called Project Resource that seeks to change the culture of acquiring resources for ministry. A key part of Project Resource is the intentional evangelism program called Come and See. In this article, Project Resource’s chief architect The Rev Canon Charles LaFond explains “Come and See.”
The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond
One day, on a hot Saturday afternoon in Washington, DC while killing time in a mall waiting to head to the airport for my flight home, I was wandering down long, sparkling hallways filled with gleaming glass and sparkling chrome. Families were wandering in the mall to escape the heat, or perhaps for the movie theatre, and many were there to make a purchase – known or unknown, done or left undone.
As I wandered aimlessly, passing shop after shop – clothes, stationery, coffee, toys, kitchen supplies, vitamins… I saw a woman ahead of me, outside the door of her clothing shop – one I frequent about once a year. She had a name tag “Jos A. Banks Clothiers – Susan” and she was in the mall-way, about ten feet outside her shop door, smiling and looking at me. ‘You look great!” She said. I looked behind me assuming she was speaking to someone else and she said, to me, “No, you! I love those linen pants! Why not come and see a jacket that would look great with them!” She approached me and extended her hand. “My name is Susan. What’s yours?”
I explained that I did not need a new jacket, but she said, “No need to buy it, but since you are here, why not come and see it, and if you don’t like it – well, you’ll be back on your mall-loop in 2 minutes.” After a brief shame-storm for having found myself walking a mall, I ventured in. I did not like the coat but I liked the one next to it and it remains my favorite jacket, a smart, trim summer tan plaid.
At the time, I had been studying John’s gospel, a favorite of mine, and could not help but think of the book of John when Susan-the-sales-lady said “come and see!” Just for a second I flashed back to John’s Gospel because that is one of the writer’s favorite slogans. Over and over again the writers place the words “come and see” in characters mouths – such a gentle invitation. Not “come and join!” or “Come and drink the Kool-Aid!” or ‘Come and sign a member’s card.” Or “Come and be indoctrinated!” Just come and see.
So I began to wonder. What if the church stopped talking about invitation and evangelism and started to actually do it? I mean, based on current membership drops, the Episcopal Church is losing members so fast that if trends just stay stable (and they will not, they will increase) then there will be no members left in 2060, and by 2030 there will not be a critical mass left to pay for electricity, mortgages and Windex. So what do we have to lose?
So, when I got home, I suggested that our church have a Come and See Campaign – you know, just people asking members to step into the life-path of a friend or two and ask them to come and see their church. “Oh, we could never do that! It’s un-Episcopalian” I was told. “Our people would never do that – it’s uncomfortable” I was told. “We can’t ask for people to pledge these “come and see conversations’, they won’t pledge and even if they do they won’t have the conversations. It’s intrusive” I was told.
Church after church would say this to me once I was in lay diocesan leadership. And at the same meetings they would bleat about having constrained budgets and losing membership in a tumble towards closure. So I just shrugged and let go of the idea.
And then I made another purchase. I was walking in the park with a friend towards her house and mentioned how thirsty I was. She said she had ice-cold soda water at home, a block away – that she makes it – makes her soda water. “Cool! How?” said I. “Come and see, stop in for a cold drink before you leave.”
On arrival she opened her fridge and pulled out a clear, plastic bottle with a black top. She removed the cap, popped it into a plastic frame and injected C02 into the bottle with a button-press. I was stunned. “But what about the cans and bottles from the grocery store?” She beamed. “I know right?!!! No more cans, no more heavy grocery bags. No more empty larders – soda water is a button-press away.”
I LOVED what I saw! I came and saw and LOVED it! So I have a SodaStream device in my kitchen and I tell everyone who drinks soda at my house what a wonderful contraption it is. And my friends are all buying one, saving the planet from recycling and easing the shopping budget. I came to her house, I saw her SodaStream, I loved it and bought one and now I tell people about it in planes when they are my captive audience. I think I tell more people about SodaStream than I do about Jesus! Oops.
So if what we know about sales is that one person telling another person about something they love and use is the VERY BEST way to make a sale, then why do we not use this sales technology in the church? Why buy programs or hire congregational development consultants when all you need is a person, a pledge card, a pen, an appointment over a cup of coffee?
So I designed a pledge-based Come and See Campaign and then I made it free through Project Resource so that anyone who wants to use it, may do so easily! Fun right? Subversive but fun.
So, what if your church were bursting at the seams with joyful members? What if you had more money than your parish budget needs and so, used the extra money raised to start food pantries and homeless shelters, plant new churches and pay for wells to be dug in the Sudan and emergency supplies for floods, funding a chaplain to a local prison or a deacon’s work in a housing project or a learning garden? Or is your church a “maintenance church” or…in stagnancy …or … in slow decline due to acedia (spiritual boredom)?
If you open your doors and hope really hard, do new people join your church? If you buy paid advertising do people join your church? If you have trendy concerts do people join your church? If you talk about the theology of evangelism, do people join your church?
No. People join a church for two reasons:
- The church is wonderful place of which to be part and so find one.
- Someone personally invited someone they know, to come and see their beloved church.
Now, for the sake of this article, there are many reasons why churches are shrinking or fragile, due, in part, to shrinking parish membership and we need to be honest about them because some churches can’t grow because they are broken and need first to heal – for example:
- The church is not attractive to new people (a closed club, a fetishized worship scene, conflict, so small and weak they can provide little of interest, entitlement, misused power, a creepy rector, a bully warden, etc.)
- The leadership wants no growth, because the bigger the church, the more work needs to be done.
- The church is not doing the kinds of things Jesus would recognize.
- The church needs new leadership to shake things up.
On the other hand, there are so many, many good, healthy, faithful churches out there which simply want to grow in order to remain strong and vibrant (and also because Jesus asked us to go out and tell people the good news.) These churches have something wonderful which their members hope people will come and see. And those healthy churches should read on. (The lazy or creepy churches …well, you’re on your own! I can’t help you. You should start looking for a real estate agent…fast. And learn how EBay works…those candle sticks will sell!)
The Come and See Campaign is a metrics-based program which mobilizes a congregation to go to a friend, or friends, and invite them to come and see their church. Every year, your church has a pledge campaign to fund your part of God’s mission. Call it a commitment campaign. Call it a promise campaign. Call it a support campaign – in the end, it is people committing financially to make mission possible. Not many churches cancel their pledge campaigns in the hopes that people will just remember to give at some point! No. They ask clearly for an investment of money and a written commitment to a certain about of money, that way everyone knows what the deal is – how many pledge how much. With that, planning can begin from which mission unfolds.
So if we fund our mission by asking for financial pledges and measuring those pledges, then why do we not do the same thing with membership growth? If we ask for fall pledges of money, why not ask for spring pledges of people – pledges of these membership growth conversations between friends? Why not ask people, gently but directly, to pledge conversations which invite members the same way we ask people to pledge money which fuels a budget? So I am arguing for churches to employ TWO campaigns a year: one campaign in the fall with pledge cards for pledging money and a second campaign in the spring with pledge cards for pledging conversations in which members ask friends to “come and see” their church.
Now, I know…people find that uncomfortable. And yet the command to spread the gospel is not unclear. Also, the philosophy of “Come and See” rather than “Come and join” is very important. It’s like asking your best friend to come and see your daughter in a school play. You are not asking them to be on the school board, or to join the back-stage set crew – you are saying “just come and see…just a light commitment. Then, if you like our church, well, come and see again…”
What if your church were growing fast? What if your church had 15% more loving people each year who loved and moved chairs and cooked food? What if your church had 15% more hands to make casseroles, hear stories and clean brass, serve bread and wine and anoint? What if your church had 15% more money for God’s mission of healing because each new member comes with a new pledge? And, bishop, what if every church in your diocese had 15% more money and so the diocesan budget increased annually by 15%- doubling in five years!!! What would you do with that money? Those crowds at convention?!
I suggest a simple, proven plan to make this happen. Many dioceses in the Episcopal Church are using this method because it is pledge based, measurable and runs along basic marketing strategy of person-to-person sales (The Diocese of Maryland is a good example.) The metrics-based invitation initiative is called “The Come and See Campaign”
Here is how The Come and See Campaign works:
- Read the many times the first century slogan “come and see” is used in the Gospel of John. (December)
- Polish up your church and train your congregation, over a few months, in how to have person-to-person conversations with people they know, and like, to ask them to come and see your church. Send a direct mail post card to your zip codes in bulk non-profit mail to warm up the community for the campaign or underwrite your local NPR station for the campaign lead-up season. (January)
- Make sure your church is one that people would like to come and see and perhaps, even stay. (For some churches this means painting the building, cleaning the kitchen, enlivening the worship or firing the clergy.) (January)
- Provide basic training so that people in your church become more comfortable with asking friends to come and see their church. (January)
- Then ask everyone to choose one, two or three friends or family they want to ask to “come and see” your church (a Eucharist, a concert, an evensong, a bible study, a festival, etc. – something you think they would like to see.) (January – February)
- Add prayers for new members to your liturgies and ask everyone in your church to sign a pledge card saying they will have a face-to-face conversation with someone they know and who likes them, asking that person to come and see the church community of faith. (In this way you are doing with evangelism what you are doing with pledging money in the fall – measuring real commitments to account for effectiveness with metrics.) (Late February)
- Collect the pledge cards and then, just as with financial pledges, help the pledgers to make good on their written promise while reporting to the parish some metrics (how many pledge cards, how many conversations pledged, how many reports of actual conversations, how many people visited, etc.) (February-March)
- Measure (by asking how many pledges were fulfilled) how many conversations were “paid” on their pledges. (March)
- Measure who visited by asking pledgers if the people with whom they had direct face-to-face conversations, came to see their church, based on the conversation held. Keep records and thank them with hand-written notes. (Easter season)
- Measure how many of these “come and see campaign” visitors decide to stay and become part of the faith movement you call your church. (Spring – Summer- Fall)
Now I am not saying that every church needs to do this. Some churches are exactly where they need to be, vibrant, and content with their membership. Their church is full to capacity, their budget meets their needs and more with well-compensated clergy and robust ministry. They are the size they want to be so that everyone knows everyone. That is just fine! But for those churches struggling to fill pews and fund mission, or which are under-functioning, why not try the Come and See Campaign?
Here is what this looks like in the many dioceses and churches using the Come and See Campaign over these past five years.
Let’s take a working model: Christ Episcopal Church in Wherever, USA with 100 families, trains their congregation in the ways to ask people to come and see their church. Then they ask each family to pledge, on a written pledge card, how many families or individuals they will have face-to-face meeting with to clearly and lovingly invite them to come and see their church. If the church is healthy and the church does a good on-boarding and training for the Come and See Campaign (with no short cuts) then generally what we find is this:
Average Come and See Campaign Results after six years of Come and See Campaign results study:
- 100 families are trained and asked to pledge 1-3 names of people they will speak to
- 30 families agree to do this courageous work that Jesus asked us to do. Seventy families refuse (some outraged at even the idea – ignore them! Evangelism is 401 spirituality at Jesus U, many people are still in the freshman 101 class!)
- Of the 30 families who pledge, they turn in cards with one or two or three first names and initials of surnames for those to whom they will go to invite. THIS IS THE CRITICAL PIECE: measure these actual pledge cards and actual names. Skip this part, and you have no effective program at all.
- Of the 30 pledge cards turned in by generous souls willing to have their evangelism measured for effectiveness, 50 conversations are pledged.
- 50 conversations are held to fulfill the 30 pledge cards.
- As a result of the 50 conversations by the 30 pledgers, 30 friends of congregants agree to come and see the church.
- As a result of the 30 visits, 15 families choose to become part of the church family because they like what they see.
- If 15 families stay, become active members and pledge the average pledge in the US ($3,000) then $45,000 new dollars are available for this church budget and for God’s mission.
(Note: Remember that most churches have membership lists amounting to twice the number of regular attendees – so Christ Church has 200 families in their computer system as “members” but only half attend and pledge which is why our model case sample suggests 100 active members.)
I am interested in the one thing the church seems unwilling to engage and unable to do, thereby working up an effective smokescreen to their inaction with a lot of talk around “invitation” rather than talk of real, measured invitations.
Here I am not proposing a new “program” with a conference, a web site and a guru. God know we have plenty of those. I am just going back to John’s gospel and what Jesus did. And what Jesus did in John’s gospel was say, over and over, in different ways – sometimes with words – “come and see.” Jesus and his followers looked real humans in the eye, humans who already had a Jewish faith, and asked them to come and see. Not come and join, not come and think your way into new faith. Not come and believe what I am telling you. Not come and be absorbed. Just come and see.
We humans are great at pushing people into our programs. We are great at setting up engagement. We are great at grabbing a new, wandering human, crossing our threshold, putting brochures and concert series and class schedules into their hands and asking if they will be on the vestry after 10 minutes in our building. But we are terrible, absolutely terrible at going up to a person we know already, who has a relationship with us, and saying the words “Would you, based on our relationship, please be willing to come and see the church where I am being fed new life?” And the way to be sure we do not have to do this vulnerable work, is to be sure it is never counted, never measured. What gets measured, gets done. By not using come and see pledges, the full campaign and its resulting metrics – we can be absolutely sure there is nothing which exposes the truth – that we do not want to do evangelism because it is too vulnerable. How amazing that a faith based on vulnerability, gathering and telling, will only engage in the gathering.
So many clergy are faithful, kind, honest and vulnerable – and those churches need to grow by asking people to come and see them, maybe join them, and enjoy the joy and transformation that an effective joyful, kind and mission-oriented church can provide as an incubator of the soul.
John 1:35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.
Would it not be wonderful if our congregations promised to tell people about Jesus, invite them to our churches and find that they stay with Jesus, with us?
 The Come and See Campaign © 2012, The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond – its related support templates and basic training materials can be found at www.project-resource.org and are on perpetual loan to the Episcopal Church at no charge, ever. A book called Fearless Church Growth: The Come and See Campaign is in its final manuscript before design and publication.