How to Stop Being a Leaky Parish
In my time in ministry at multiple parishes, there is something that i have realized. Our parishes are often very leaky.
No, I'm not referring to what seems to be every parish's perennial issues with the pipes/boiler/AC. More devastatingly, we leak people.
People come to our parish all the time who are not affiliated and not necessarily even believers and, too often, we let our front doors be revolving ones for them. We let them detach again without really giving them a chance to hear what Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church are all about.
One of the simplest things we can do to create a more evangelizing culture at our parish is to turn the situations where unchurched and dechurched people walk through our doors. These opportunities for evangelization include, but are not limited to, marriage and baptism prep, major Mass attendance days (Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, and, weirdly, Mother's Day are the key ones for most parishes), and even parish office walk-ins.
Let's resolve, together, to not let these opportunities slip us by without doing one, or ideally, all, of the following three things. These are three key steps to stop leaking as a parish.
1) Preach the Kerygma
The basic Gospel message is the WHY behind all of the WHAT with everything we do as Catholics. We need to lead with this message for the unchurched and dechurched. Ideally.in our preaching, there would even be a chance for pre-evangelization to remove any barriers to receptivity to the Gospel message. It's hard to tell people that Jesus matters if they don't believe God is real.
2) Offer a meaningful relationship or at least a sense of belonging
Many in today's culture have to Belong before they Believe or Behave. The best way is to give people a relational touchpoint in the parish. This is why having an army of missionary disciples at your parish is crucial. If this isn't possible, at least find a way to communicate that they are welcome in your community. Our parishes have to avoid a country club mentality.
The goal is to continue to build a bridge into parish life through personal relationship. No one wants to show up to a party at which they don't know anyone. Also, if they're not involved at your parish, chances are that they're not reading your bulletin, the place where all of your programs are advertised. They may respond to a personal invitation though.
Get creative with this one. Did you do marriage prep for a couple in your parish? Did you send them an email after they get settled in their new life congratulating them on their big day and maybe even inviting them to Alpha and oh yeah you'll be there too and would love to see them come?
My insurance company has emailed me no less than a dozen times asking me how the process of filing a claim went after I hit a deer a couple weeks ago. Why are we less personal in our parishes than Farmer's is with their consumers? We can't expect people to just opt their way into parish life and navigate our confusing system of communicating events all on their own.
If we just got even a fraction better at building bridges for people into our parish life, we'd be taking a huge step in creating a culture of evangelization at our parishes. These simple steps are just a small way to get better at growing a welcoming and initiatory parish life always with the end goal in mind of preaching a message of conversion and forming intentional disciples.