At a recent Theology on Tap event, I met a young woman named Jennifer. As we talked, I learned that she was a catechist at one particular parish but that she frequently attended Eucharistic Adoration at another parish. I asked her which one she was a member of, and she replied, “Neither. I’m multiparishional. My idea of a parish community is something that is fluid and customizable to my needs and time. Besides, what are the actual benefits of registering at a parish?”
This is a key question for our parishes to reflect upon as we strive to reach out to all, especially young adults. What are the benefits of registering as a member at one particular parish rather than another? Too often our registration process consists of sliding a packet of envelopes across a desk and giving some information on Mass times. It becomes an invitation to a building rather than an invitation to a living community of faith, a community where people care about one another and are excited about welcoming newcomers.
Evangelization requires that we witness and share our faith. As we welcome newcomers to our parishes, we must make sure that those engaged with the registration process are witnesses. They should be disciples themselves, people who are motivated by the Gospel and filled with the Holy Spirit. They must also be able to share the love that is the basis of our faith; they must be warm, inviting, and truly knowledgeable about how the parish can help newcomers live faith-filled lives. All members of the parish—especially the parish staff—should be able personally to attest to the communal life of the parish.
But we must go beyond simply welcoming newcomers to our parish. We should be able to help them see how their unique gifts and talents will help everyone who calls the parish home. Using the “Five W’s”—Who, What, Where, When, and Why—you can develop a welcoming process for inviting newcomers to join your parish family.
- Who? Do the people who register new members at your parish live their faith? Do their lives demonstrate their love of God and of neighbor? Who on the parish team connects and follows up with new members? How is this follow up conducted? Who mentors new members?
- What? What are you truly inviting people to experience at your parish? What kind of community can people expect to encounter? What does your registration process entail?
- Where? How are you reaching out to new parishioners? Are you expecting them to come to you, or do you go out into the community? Do you knock on doors? Are you present at community events such as farmer’s markets or public celebrations? How do you connect with new people?
- When? When can people register at the parish? Do you have a particular time of the month? Is there a welcoming Mass for newcomers?
- Why? Why would someone join your parish and not another? Are you hoping that new members will become engaged in parish ministries, activities, and events? Are you hoping that they form new relationships in a community of faith? How are you introducing new members to Christ? By what means are you helping people to come to a deeper understanding of their faith?
How does your parish welcome newcomers? What improvements can you make in your registration process to make your community more inviting?