Just as so many parishes had to reinvent how they ministered to parishioners amid a world-wide pandemic, they are now working hard to come up with a way to bring them back to the fold now that it’s safe to venture out. But rather than leave churches to figure out for themselves how to fill the pews, the Archdiocese of Detroit is spearheading a campaign designed to accompany parishes on the complicated process of reopening and reengaging members.
“I think that there’s been a recognition that it’s going to take effort and clear communication to help people feel safe at Mass and to help bring them back with a focus on the importance of the Eucharist,” said Emily Mentock, Associate Director of Strategy for the Archdiocese of Detroit. “This is why we launched our ‘Come Home to Hope’ campaign. It’s a sort of dual message of the importance of the Eucharist and the hope that comes with that. As we emerge from the pandemic — some of the darkest days many of us have experienced in our lifetime so far — and come back into full community with the Church, no doubt it’ll take some time to reach people where they are.”
Ideas & Strategies to Engage
“There is a recognition that it’s going to take effort to bring people back into full community with their home parish. Some of the ways that they’ve done that and how we’ve supported our churches in doing that, is by publishing a welcome back playbook for parishes that give them different strategies for both parish leaders and volunteers. It’s a great resource meant to help parishes greet people who are coming back and remind them of the safety guidelines still in place, or to be proactive and do outreach,” she continued. “We have scripts for calling parishioners to let them know about the particular dispensations, inviting them back to Mass, and asking if they have any questions, to alleviate any of those concerns about safety.”
The Archdiocese has also created ready-to-use templates for parishes to utilize, so all they need to do is supply an address and the rest is taken care of.
“We’ve also published sample welcome back letters that parishes can send to parishioners, and in partnership with LPi, we’ve created postcards that parishes can customize with messages to welcome people back and mail to their parishioners, to let them know what the safety guidelines are and what particular dispensations would remain in place for those who may still be concerned.”
Pandemic Only “Amplified” Ongoing Problems
Edmundo Reyes, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit, has also heard some concerns echoed throughout the Archdiocese about parishioners not coming back to Mass in-person for a variety of reasons. However, he is a firm believer that despite the ongoing impact of 2020, the Church’s mission remains the same.
“What we’ve heard throughout the Archdiocese is that the parishes that had vibrant communities before the pandemic are doing fine bringing people back. Aside from some capacity restrictions, some rows roped off and masks being required, they managed to keep parishioners engaged and growing in their relationship with Christ,” he explained, “But the parishes that weren’t necessarily thriving are the ones that are struggling a bit more so. Regardless of a pandemic, it is an ongoing problem that the Church has — creating and growing vibrant communities.”
Reyes believes that, like a lot of the societal issues we experienced in 2020 — childcare restrictions, job loss, work/life balances — parish attendance decline wasn’t something that was caused by the pandemic, but rather amplified the ongoing problem.
“The year that the pandemic hit, it accelerated the decline of some parishes, but it wasn’t necessarily the fault of the pandemic,” he said. “What we’ve seen here in the Archdiocese is that the parishes that were thriving before the pandemic, continue to thrive. But the parishes that were in decline beforehand, continue to decline today. In a sense, the pandemic has made things clearer to us what we as Church leaders must continue to work on.”
“Things Are Getting Safer”
Mentock, a faithful member of St. Aloysius, Detroit, has not only seen the number of attendees at Mass come back to pre-pandemic attendance, but in fact grow as things slowly go back to normal.
“At my parish, we have seen an increase in the number of people coming back, as the dispensations have been lifted,” she said. “We’re a very small congregation, so it was easy to maintain social distancing in a church that could seat almost 2,000 people with three levels of seating. But as the general dispensation has been lifted, we have seen people come back more and more.
“Even this past weekend with some of the Mass guidelines changing, I think people are starting to have an awareness that we’re starting to get to a better place, in that I think there were close to twice as many people as there had been 6-to 8 weeks ago,” Mentock said. “Of course, as the guidelines are changing, people are realizing that they’re not changing without reason. They’re changing because things are getting safer.”
“It’s really encouraging to see the number of people in the pews go up these past few weeks,” she added. “I’m excited to see my parish — and others like it — continue to open their doors wide to welcome everyone back.”
Interested in seeing the Archdiocese of Detroit’s “Come Home to Hope” campaign? Visit www.aod.org/comehometohope to see resources for the lay faithful, and www.egwdetroit.org/come-home-to-hope to see resources for parish leaders.