Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Does Your Parish Welcome New Members?

Thursday greetings on this King Kamehameha Day!

A few weeks ago, I decided to register at Old Saint Patrick's Church here in Chicago.

They have an area on their web site where a prospective parishioner can fill in some preliminary information, which I did.

A few days later, I received an invitation, via email, to attend a new parishioner gathering, which will take place tonight. It begins with a tour of the historic church at 5:30, then there is a cocktail reception and dinner with the pastor. I am looking forward to the evening and sharing my reflections with you.

It got me thinking. When I was growing up in the Boston Archdiocese, I don't ever remember seeing any overt signs of welcome for new or prospective parishioners. As a matter of fact, I knew some families that lived closer to a neighboring parish but their home address was actually in my own parish. It was an unwritten rule back then that people could attend Mass at another parish but that their envelopes needed to go to the parish in which their home was situated. And people that I know actually did this! It was "just the way it is."

My, how things have changed. When I arrived as music and liturgy director at Saint Mary Magdalen Parish in the mid-1980's in Altamonte Springs, Florida, I was surprised and gladdened to see how intentional that community was at reaching out to prospective members.

There was always a little movable "welcome cart" that was staffed by a person on the parish's welcome committee. It was situated in the covered walkway in front of the church, where most people gathered to chat before and after Mass. People who registered in the parish were invited to monthly welcome receptions. For a New Englander like me, this seemed kind of like something "those Protestants" did. Thank God for the experience in that parish because I became convinced that this kind of intentional hospitality and welcome is critical for growing parishes today.

Over the past two years, as a visitor to many parishes here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, I have seen little of this kind of intentionality. Most parishes where I have offered my tithe as a visitor did contact me via mail (because my address was on the check I left in the collection).

One parish (Saint Peter's in the Loop) continues to send me monthly newsletters, with an envelope included to donate to some organization or cause, but no invitation to officially join the parish.

Another (Holy Name Cathedral) sent me a solicitation for more funds.

A parish I was on the fence about - regarding joining - and attended pretty regularly (Notre Dame de Chicago) never once reached out in any way; one of the reasons, among others, why I decided not to join that parish.

Old Saint Pat's did send me a mailing about every six months, communicating some things and happenings in the parish.

I do not usually name parish names like this, but maybe our Chicago city parishes might need a bit of a push when it comes to intentional welcome and hospitality.

My question to you: how do you reach out to prospective parishioners? Visitors? How intentional is your parish about hospitality and welcome? What happens when someone officialy registers in your parish?

I am looking forward to tonight's session at Old Saint Pat's and will report tomorrow.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Robert Noble said...

Thank you, Jerry, for posting this today. We are working on how to be more hospitable to our regular folks as well as those we don't know well yet. Your post can help us work towards that. Our goal is try to be truly a house of the Lord: a church where all are welcome and all find a home.

Virginia Meagher said...

In 2001, my mom moved from Barrington, where she had lived for 17 years, to Palatine. She decided to move her regular attendance and registration from St. Anne to Holy Family. I will say, she was shocked that her registration card resulted in a phone call and an invitation to a "welcome event." Unsure what sort of thing this could be, she asked me to come with her. Well, after Mass on a Sunday, all the new people were gathered in the Narthex, taken to the rectory. Greeted by Fr. Pat in the Living Room, offered some light refreshments, and introduced to a variety of staff members, volunteers, and "regular folks who just go to Mass," who talked about why they were at Holy Family also, and how happy they were to have these new people as well. She was really unsure about the move, but this sort of welcome put her at ease and made her feel a part of her new parish home very quickly. Welcoming people doesn't have to be over the top or complicated, but it does have to be intentional.