As a church leader, you’re bound to notice when there are some new faces in the pews on Sunday. From college students who attend your Sunday afternoon Mass, to families with young children who stay near the back in case their toddler acts up, you get all sorts of people coming through the doors. However, the more important question you need to ask yourself is: are they coming back?
Today, people are more willing than ever to attend churches further away if their spiritual needs have a better chance of being met. If you find yourself with a revolving door parish, here are four things to consider that help first-time visitors not only stick around but participate in the life of your church.
1.The Issue: Your Church Isn’t as Great as You Think
There’s an old saying that goes, “You can’t promote your church as the best, if the bathrooms are consistently dirty.” Put simply, you can spend hours promoting your parish using multiple communication vehicles, compelling images, social media posts, and content on your website. But if your parish isn’t living up to the hype, it’s not going to help you. Ensure your parish is truly meeting the needs of you members by auditing your church and adjusting if necessary.
The Fix: Take a Look Around
If you find that your visitors are not coming back, you need to ask yourself why. Is the choir as good as it can be? Is the secretary friendly and helpful for those seeking information? Is the homily engaging, and does it leave parishioners looking for more? If not, you need to work on it.
Amazing Parish has a great book about just this topic. Written by Patrick Lencioni, “The Better Pastor” is the story of a priest who is challenged to think differently about his job as pastor. Instead of seeing issues with things going on in his parish and not doing anything to make them better, he is challenged by a parishioner to be proactive and “change the way they work and serve the people God has put in their lives.” While fictional, the story sheds light on issues that so many pastors struggle with — be sure to check it out!
2. The Issue: Your Staff is Welcoming — Your Parishioners, Not So Much
Your ushers are trained to welcome people with a greeting and a smile to match, and your administrative assistant is bright, cheery, and helpful when the phone starts to ring. But when newcomers come through your door, some long-time parishioners are …. not so welcoming. They like what they like, discourage change, and often lay claim to specific pews.
The Fix: Teach Them the Art of Parish Hospitality
Members are part of the welcoming committee, too! Remind them of the importance of a welcoming smile and an encouraging word by sharing tips with them via the bulletin and the pulpit each week. Offer tips for all age ranges and make it fun!
It can be as simple as asking them to say hello to someone new each week, or more elaborate such as listing some tips in the bulletin on ways your parish is working on becoming more welcoming.
3. The Issue: Your Most Engaging Members Are Also the Quietest
Your parish has a wonderful congregation that is kind, caring, and energic, but like any group, it can be intimidating for new people to find a way in. You need a Sunday Welcoming Committee to make it official!
The Fix: Recruit Ambassadors to Champion Your Church
If you often see new people come through the door, ask some of your key parishioners to make it a point to welcome and invite them into conversation before or after Mass. Whether it be a simple wave in the pew to a quick conversation in the parking lot, a call-out can do wonders for those seeking a new faith community.
Put a call out into your faith community that a new, totally non-committal ministry is starting up. The only thing they need to do is put on a bright smile, keep their eyes open for new faces, and say hello to anyone looking for a companion on their faith journey.
4. The Issue: They Don’t Get an Invitation to Return
Maybe they had a great time at Mass. They felt fed spiritually, welcomed by your members and are fully aware that your church wants them to come back. But … life gets in the way. By the time next Sunday rolls around, they’ve forgotten that special feeling. It’s time to make sure they truly know that you want them back.
The Fix: Make it a Priority to Invite them Back
It’s Hospitality 101: one final way to ensure that your visitors come back next Sunday is to go ahead and invite them. From a few kind words such as “See you at Mass!” to a schedule of events and Mass/Confession times that you hand off to them on their way out the door, sometimes all it takes is a proper offer.
Need some tips on increasing parish engagement in 2021? Check out 3 Ideas to Build Your Church Community Post-COVID.