Welcoming new members and actively engaging current members adds vitality to your parish as the Body of Christ. For parishioners, the experience of belonging to a vibrant parish community offers opportunities to encounter the living Christ and grow in faith. When parish leaders and staff bring this idea to life, they practice everyday evangelization which can lead to greater discipleship among their parishioners.
The following is a sampling of simple ideas for enhancing the sense of belonging in your parish:
- Welcome the new. Establish a program for new members who register in your parish to feel more integrated into parish life as soon as possible. Schedule periodic welcome events with parish tours and orientations. Designate a Mass at which recent new members are recognized. Host a coffee with a chance to meet other parishioners. Plan variations to welcome newly married couples or parents with children.
- And include the old. Organize ways to include residents of nursing homes or homebound persons in parish life by providing transportation to church for liturgy and other events. Ask volunteers from the parish to visit those who cannot come to church, and start prayer groups for these parishioners in local residential facilities.
- Give information. Help people understand the workings of the parish and how to get involved. Regularly invite people who are serving in parish ministries to speak briefly at the end of Mass about the benefits of participation in parish life. Establish a parish information line, staffed by trained volunteers, to assure that someone will be available to respond to those who have questions or need to talk. (Be sure to have a different number or method for contacting a priest.)
- Ask for information. People feel a greater sense of belonging when their feedback is valued. Conduct periodic town hall meetings to solicit input and brainstorm about what is working and what is needed in the parish. Alternatively, send out a questionnaire to all registered families. Survey Monkey (surveymonkey.com) is a helpful online tool.
- Reach out beyond members. Let current families know that their non-member friends are always welcome to join them at parish service projects or social gatherings. These are easy ways for visitors get to know people in an approachable fashion. Of course, if these visitors are ready and willing, they can be encouraged to attend liturgies. In this way, parishioners will feel the satisfaction of helping the parish grow with people they know.
Belonging truly matters. Don’t let your parish’s belonging outreach become stale. Whether it’s the youth or the elderly, reach out to groups that you don’t see in your parish often enough with events and experiences to foster belonging. In providing this for parishioners and newcomers, you are being an active missionary disciple of Christ.
What ideas has your parish put into practice?