Growth is an outcome, not a goal: a month of invitation at St. Giles’, Moraga

Posted on June 9, 2014

In August 2013 the Rev. Justin Cannon, vicar of St. Giles’, Moraga, told his congregation that he’d once known a woman who wanted to visit her local Episcopal church but never had. When he asked her why she hadn’t, she replied, “No one has ever invited me.” Starting with the Feast of St. Giles (September 1), which St. Giles’ celebrates in Moraga Commons, September was dedicated to spreading the word about and inviting others to join the vibrant, growing community of St. Giles’.

At their annual Mass in the Grass, each member of St. Giles’ was given 20 business card-sized invitation cards. The goal of the cards was for parishioners to have something to hand out if anyone asked about St. Giles or asked about the parishioner’s faith. After the service that day, someone who had seen the community gathered in the park asked what was happening. A parishioner gave them a card and invited them to join next week.

The second Sunday of September invitational theme was inviting a friend to church. Cannon says, “Obviously people can bring a friend any Sunday, but having something structured like this allows people to approach a friend and say, ‘Hey, our church is having this Bring-a-Friend-to-Church thing and I wanted to know if you’d be interested in seeing my church?’ It allows for a natural starting place for the invitation to come from, so it's not out of the blue.” Although people were timid, some friends did attend.

On September 22, the third Sunday, coffee hour was dedicated to parishioners personally sending cards to people from the community — those who attend at Christmas and Easter, those who may have been looking for a church home, or a friend they were more comfortable sharing their church home with in a card than in person. The final Sunday was Social Media Sunday, where members of St. Giles’ were encouraged to use their smart phones to check in on Facebook, tweet about the service, and take and share photos of their weekly experience. Social Media Sunday was quite successful as many, many people participated, and exponentially more people saw the posts.

Rather than focusing on growth itself, this month of invitation / evangelism was intended to shift the congregation’s mentality of welcoming visitors to inviting those already in their circle to join them. In its first iteration, people participated to varying degrees, though Cannon hopes that the participation will increase in the future.

“Growth cannot be a goal — it is an outcome,” Cannon replies when asked about retention of visitors from St. Giles’ first invitation month. “We need to discard it as a goal. The goal is to be a vibrant witness of the Kingdom of God and to pursue the work of the Gospel. From that goal, growth is an inevitable outcome.”