As we approach the celebration of the birth of our Lord, parish leaders are busy making many preparations. We know that our churches will be filled with people we may not see on a regular basis. Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to be intentional about welcoming these visitors to our parish. Helping newcomers feel welcomed can make the difference between their staying strangers or becoming members of our community.
Each of us has the capacity to make the Church a place “where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel ” as Pope Francis describes in The Joy of the Gospel.
Here are five simple suggestions for creating a spirit of hospitality to help visitors feel welcomed by your community and more likely to return. These same approaches also strengthen the sense of belonging among your current parishioners.
- Start at the street. External signage that is clear and visible helps visitors find your parish more easily. If your parking lot gets crowded and clogged, ask for volunteers for “parking lot ministry.” These volunteers arrive early and act as “parking lot ministers” to keep things moving smoothly. Additional volunteers at each entrance to greet and help people who are new to your parish find their way are also important.
- Welcoming is everyone’s job. On the fourth Sunday of Advent make an announcement at each Mass gently reminding parishioners that, unlike the innkeepers who closed their doors to the Holy Family, we offer a hospitable welcome. Encourage parishioners to smile at unfamiliar faces and make room for them in the pew.
- Remind liturgical ministers of the importance of their ministry. Speak with the liturgical ministers to remind them that their ministry is a service to the community. A passionate, engaged reader, a moving song from the choir, or meeting people’s eyes as they come forward to receive communion can reach the heart of a visitor and help that person feel welcomed.
- Welcome all to the liturgy. A few warm words of welcome from the pulpit helps visitors know they are valued guests in your parish home. Words of greeting from the celebrant combined with an air of welcome from the congregation leaves a lasting impression.
- Offer each person a simple gift. If your parish has the means, a small gift such as a religious ornament or a simple prayer card extends the feeling of welcome and community. There is the possibility that this could be the only gift they receive for the holiday.
Take a moment to review these principles of hospitality, to consider other effective ways to create a warm, welcoming environment for visitors at this holy time of year. The Christmas season is a powerful moment of evangelization which will have a lasting effect in the hearts of your guests and parishioners.