This is a crisis of hospitality in Catholic parishes in the United States. The share of Americans who are Catholic declined from 24% in 2007 to 21% in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. This is a greater net loss than any other religious tradition. That’s not because people are giving up on religion. They are giving up on the Catholic Church.
In this time of pandemic, we are seeing a lot of visitors to our churches. They are not physically present, but they are showing up online. Sometimes they are just looking. Sometimes they are interested in joining. We have to ask ourselves how we are doing at welcoming them.
If our pre-pandemic behavior is any gage, we are not doing so well. The Lewis Center for Church Leadership says that one of the top reason that visitors didn’t return to a church before the pandemic was the parish was not welcoming.
I know from experience that this is true. Almost every Catholic community claims to be a warm, hospitable parish that welcomes newcomers. And the harsh reality is, we are just not very good at seeing and welcoming visitors. Most parishioners do not talk to strangers on Sunday. We talk to our friends, and we stay in literal circles that seem daunting to break into.
Some folks believe that after the pandemic, we are going to see an even steeper decline in the share of Americans who are Catholic. If you want your parish to be an exception to that trend and actually build membership, here are 20 ways to engage newcomers online and in-person.
1. Say who you are and what you believe
Don’t assume everyone knows. Before an online liturgy begins, make a simple statement that gives visitors of sense of where they are and who you are. Do the same thing on the cover of your paper bulletin and on your parish website.
2. Remind parishioners that they are hosts not guests
Online or in-person, parishioners should be on the lookout for newcomers and act toward them as if the newcomer was a guest in the parishioner’s home. Because they are!
3. Take the initiative to talk to strangers on Sunday
Don’t wait for newcomers to start the conversation. Be outgoing. Be extroverted. Even introverts can act as extroverts when necessary.Some folks believe that after the pandemic, we are going to see an even steeper decline in the share of Americans who are Catholic. Do you want your parish to be an exception to that trend, and actually build membership? Click To Tweet
4. Get online more
Most parishes these days have a presence on Facebook. If you don’t, start showing up there. And then start posting on other social media platforms. According to Hootsuite, these are the most popular online destinations for older teens and young adults:
- Facebook: 2.44 billion monthly active users
- YouTube: 2 billion monthly active users
- Instagram: 1 billion monthly active users
- LinkedIn: 303 million monthly active users
- Snapchat: 210 daily active users
5. Never let people sit alone
This is more for when we are back to full churches. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been a visitor sitting in a pew all by myself. It’s one thing to do so because of pandemic requirements. But it should never happen in normal times.
6. Establish weekly small groups
This is now extremely easy to do because so many people have become familiar with online video platforms like Slack and Zoom. Imagine if at the end of every liturgy (in-person or online) you invite everyone to a 30-minute online chat during the coming week. If you need ideas about what to talk about, google “conversation starters.” Let newcomers know they are especially welcome.
7. Create a culture of invitation
At every liturgy, whether online or in-person, ask parishioners, “Who are you going to invite to join us next week?” If you are online, ask them to type a name into the chat box. If you are in-person, ask them to text a name to the parish cell phone number.
8. Create a welcome video
Here is a collection of 50 examples to inspire you.