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Getting Back to Church This Fall

Reach Beyond Parishioners with Invitation

Welcome to our Parish!  Reach beyond parishioners with invitation.

We’re back!  Or are we?  Parishes are reporting that about 30% of parishioners have returned to Mass in person. Of course we would like everyone back in person, but we aren’t there yet. What now? What if they don’t come back?

The issue of Covid has forced us to realize that the parish must look outward.  In fact, we aren’t living up to our mission if we are focusing all our efforts on parishioners in the pew.  We are called to invite everyone to our community so they have the opportunity to encounter the Holy Spirit.

This sheds light on how important it is to continue to welcome all who are connected to us online or are viewing our Catholic church livestream Masses, AND to welcome those who may have no connection to the Catholic faith.  We must continue to form and inspire our parishioners while we invite and celebrate new people into relationship. 

This time of crisis is also a time of great opportunity. Contacting parishioners helps to maintain community. Caring about the lost or fallen away helps to revitalize community. As a parish, pick a few things you can do to move forward to maintain and revitalize.

Here are some great ideas from parish leaders:

Call or contact parishioners

Parishes who have made it a priority to make personal contact with parishioners report how grateful people are to hear from their parish.  I spoke with a pastor in Philadelphia, a deacon in Connecticut, a finance manager in Maryland, and another pastor in South Carolina (my own parish) who have done intentional calling to their parishioners.  All of them relate stories of people who are surprised and delighted to hear from their parish.  And they all report that they are financially healthy. They have been able to keep their community engaged in the parish. 

The “surprise” should be something we note. Were you intentional about your outreach to parishioners before Covid?  For most of us, maybe not.  We were operating with the perspective that parishioners should contact the parish, and since they are obligated to attend Mass, the pastor could expect to see them regularly.  Covid provides us an opportunity to change our perspective about proactive contact with parishioners.

Open your children’s programs

Start your religious education classes and your children’s bible study and other groups.  And provide a meaningful place for parents to spend time while their children are in session.  Fr. Michael White of Church of the Nativity encourages others to bring the children back as a way to bring families to the parish.

Do a Kickoff Weekend

Another great example from Church of the Nativity and the Rebuilt team is to conduct an autumn weekend of events during which all programs are re-opened and all staff is present at the parish.  Make it a community welcome to let people know what you do at the parish. The Rebuilt apostolate goes a step further and uses this weekend to launch a new theme for the upcoming year, which is reflected in Sunday homilies, music and in devotional emails.  

Create an experience for the Unchurched or Dechurched

During a recent Rebuilt webinar, Tom Corcoran reminded attendees that “heaven celebrates when the lost are found”.  Jesus made it a point to eat with tax collectors and sinners.  In the Bible we read about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Something lost then found and celebrated.  Consider this as part of your parish hospitality.  How do you make people feel comfortable and welcome when they come to your church?  Part of it is greeting in the parking lot and into the church. More challenging is to use language and music that appeals to the people in the community.  Communicate as if Unchurched people are in the room!

We are back!

While it may seem that we are not “back” to Mass based on in-person attendance, this is a time to move forward while continuing to invite people to be part of the celebration. By staying in touch with parishioners, you are letting them know you care and are inviting them back when they are ready. We’re back. In new and inspiring ways for our parishioners. Come Holy Spirit!

Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive with extensive sales, product marketing, strategy and leadership experience in supporting faith organizations. Terry’s professional experience includes organizational leadership, corporate development and growth, consulting with and training church leaders, and leading strategic and priority planning for churches and dioceses. He currently serves on the advisory board for the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine FL, as cantor at St. Andrew parish in Myrtle Beach, SC. and recently as Chairman of the Finance Council at St. Mary the Virgin Mother parish in Hartsville, SC.

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