Do you see familiar faces in your pews that don’t match to a name on the parish membership roster? You’re not alone. In recent years, not only are younger generations becoming less religious, but those who are religious are becoming less “rooted” in one particular community (we’ve all heard of the rising of Roamin’ Catholics, those who visit a different church every Sunday). A Gallup Poll released in early 2021 reveals that, for the first time ever, less than half of Americans report belonging to one particular worship community — a downward trend that has been steeper for Catholics than for other faiths.
But our parish communities require that sense of rootedness, and the financial support, that comes with a devoted membership. And if you’re seeing the same visitors return again and again, it’s likely that membership may be on their mind. If you’re wondering how to turn some of those familiar faces into members of your parish family, here are tips for easy ways to start.
Provide Brief Education on the Importance of Parish Membership
It’s just better to be a parish member than a parish visitor. Use the bulletin or back of the worship aid to emphasize the importance of membership. Members are more easily able to access sacramental privileges because they have an existing relationship with the parish and with a priest, and there are often financial benefits like school tuition reduction associated with membership. But on a deeper level, there is a profound meaning attached to the idea of belonging to a parish family — a concept that has faded from culture in recent decades. Membership is a powerful statement that says: This is our community. This is where we worship. This is who we are.
Make it Simple
Many of these visitors may have “parish registration” on their to-do list but never seem to get around to calling the office. Make it easy for people by offering registration on your parish website, and publicize that this is an option. Host a monthly signup after Mass, when people are already at church, or have a table out at each event your parish holds. Equip ushers with cards for people to fill in their personal information, so a staff member or volunteer can call them and complete registration later. Drive home the point that this is a quick and almost effortless process that will afford them great spiritual and practical benefits for years to come.
Make it Interesting
Get everyone excited about the prospect of increasing membership. To capture people’s attention, make it a contest (“Let’s get everyone signed up to be members by Father’s birthday! By the parish’s patronal feast day! By Easter!”) or a raffle (“Register and your name is entered to win!”).
Roll Out the Welcome Wagon
Joining a new community can be intimidating, especially if the new member is unmarried and childless. Does your parish have a welcoming committee tasked with reaching out to new parishioners to help them become part of parish life? Even a simple phone call or email of welcome from a fellow parishioner could make all the difference. If the new parishioners are comfortable, include a short introduction in the bulletin to help people get to know them. Make it known that your parish embraces its new members, and new members will be more eager to join.
Keep Reminding Them
Never doubt the power of brief announcements before or after Mass, perhaps delivered by representatives of different councils, clubs or groups within the parish. Help visitors to understand the vibrancy of parish life that awaits them if they join. Print testimonies in the bulletin from parishioners speaking to what parish membership has brought to their lives both spiritually and socially.
Engaging your parishioners is an ongoing job, but we can help! Check out “3 Ideas to Build Your Church Community Post-Covid” for some helpful ideas moving past the pandemic.