True Christian hospitality is the opportunity to welcome new people into our community, to help those in need, and to see Christ in all who join or visit our parishes or who live in our neighborhoods or regions. A warm welcome has the power to break down the barriers of class, ethnicity, age, and economic status. Welcome matters!
Here are some touchpoints of parish welcome that matter to evangelization:
1. Sundays, holy days, and holidays: These are often the first touchpoints of welcome for newcomers in a parish. By viewing these sacred times through the lens of evangelization, we can intentionally help first-time and infrequent visitors understand the value in joining the parish. We will also make our regular parishioners feel valued, especially by including them in offering the spirit of welcome to others.
Many people who come to church on special occasions might not come very often the rest of the year. They may come to Mass only on Palm Sunday, Easter, or Christmas or stop by to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. Rather than viewing these visitors as imposing on us, we can seize the opportunity to send the message that they are our honored guests.
The most important first step is to start each Mass or other celebration with a special greeting to visitors and to encourage them to introduce themselves to those around them. Leave guest cards and pencils in the pews for those who may want to request more information about joining the parish. Position staff people and greeters, wearing name tags, so that they are visible to visitors.
2. When people come to us for service: The second touchpoint of welcome happens anytime someone visits or contacts the parish, usually for information or for assistance and service. These interactions range from mundane requests to critically important matters in people’s lives—such as illness or a death in a family— or joyous occasions—such as a wedding or a baptism. How we respond to and accompany people during these times sets the tone for how they will view the parish and the Church as a whole. Pope Francis describes the evangelizing attitude as “approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental” (Evangelii Gaudium, 165).
We can demonstrate approachability by making it easy for a person or family to connect with the parish to conduct routine business. Offer convenient evening and weekend hours, especially on Sunday, for people to meet with staff, fill out forms, or register.
If someone asks a question that you cannot answer, be prepared to help him or her get in touch with the right person, and follow up to make sure the question was answered.
3. When we reach out to invite: The third touch point of parish welcome comes when the parish extends itself into the community, its members reaching out as missionary disciples and inviting others to join them. Pope Francis reminds us that “a Church which goes forth is a Church whose doors are open.” You don’t have to look too far to influence people on the edge of parish life. Encourage parishioners to get to know their neighbors, get involved in civic groups or their kids’ schools, scouting, and community sports leagues. As parishioners get to know more people in their communities, they may encounter informal opportunities to speak with others about faith and the blessings of parish life.For more perspectives about welcome, you can read about applying Four Best Practices for a More Welcoming Parish based on principles of hospitality from customer-friendly organizations.