Years ago, people would become members of a parish because of its proximity to where it was located. If it was in your neighborhood, that’s just where you went each Sunday. Today, people have more options when it comes to choosing which parish community to call home. We need to make sure that when they visit ours, it meets all their needs from that moment on.
People look for parishes that feed them spiritually — inspiring homilies with practical applications, music that speaks to the heart, and a strong connection to the sacraments, especially that of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. When it comes to visitors, a good portion of these things need to be demonstrated within a typical 60-minute timeframe. What impression will a visitor have of your parish?
Following are four ways that your parish can help one-time visitors become full-fledged members of your faith community.
1 MAKE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION
How does your parish compare when a visitor first walks through the doors? Are they greeted by a friendly usher? Are they told where to find the bathrooms? Do they have assistance finding a seat if they need some?
Create a “game plan” for your ushers. Rule number one could be to always greet everyone with a hearty hello and a friendly welcome to all who walk through the doors. If anyone looks like a newcomer, they are quickly informed where things can be found — bathroom, quiet room, side chapel if you have one, even coloring books and crayons for young families. Entering a new church can be a little intimidating the first time around. Help them be as comfortable as possible by letting them know what to expect.
2 CONTACT INFO IS KEY
It’s important that parishes keep track of all who walk through the door, especially when it comes to visitors. Why did they come to that parish? How far away did they travel from their home base? You can keep track of this information using your parish’s data management system.
The process of keeping track of visitors is a two-fold process. One, it’s important to obtain their contact information so you can send them follow-up material, and two, following-up with a personal call or email from a parish leader (preferably the pastor), can do wonders.
3 FOLLOW-UP ON THEIR SUNDAY EXPERIENCE
Honest feedback is essential to the life of a healthy parish. If a first-timer had a great Sunday experience, it’s important to identify why so that parish staff and volunteers can keep up the good work. If it was a negative experience, finding out why and fixing the issue is key if you want to also maintain a healthy congregation. If a visitor felt that the homily was lacking in content, chances are that the members feel that way, too.
4 INVITE THEM BACK
Like Jesus Christ, we need to convey to people that we not only want them as members but need them, that they are essential to the vitality of the Catholic Church, and that their voice matters and their opinions count. Follow up with a quick, personal phone call or email, preferably from the pastor. Remind them of Mass times and invite them to stay after for doughnuts and coffee or to attend family-friendly church activities, like the upcoming fish fry. It’s amazing how a simple invitation to connect can make you feel.
The mission of the Catholic Church is to continue the works of Jesus Christ through the sacraments and to make his name known and loved. In this day and age, it must be conveyed that, quite simply, your church is there for people. From the pastor and pastoral associate to the youth minister and secretary, the church staff is there to help the people who choose to walk through the doors. If they have problems with their marriage, are hungry, are troubled about work, or are feeling grateful and just looking for an outlet to express their joy, their first thought should be, “Let’s go to church.”
What are some unique things that your parish does to attract and retain visitors?