Written by Carol Baass Sowa, for Today’s Catholic
This is the first in a series covering presentations by Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) at the Office of Development’s annual Stewardship Day workshop on Sept. 14.
“If we want our churches to grow and to transform,” said Katie Herzing, Our Sunday Visitor senior parish coach, “we need to make a plan.” Good stewardship starts with transforming your parish and a written vision plan for your parish is imperative. “Just the act of writing it down is really helpful,” she observed.
Herzing specializes in facilitating creation of parish vision plans, based on needs discerned through a parish survey asking such questions as: Is there a welcoming environment? How often do people attend Mass? What kind of faith life do parishioners have outside of Sunday Mass?
Once a baseline is determined from the survey, action can be taken to help “bump” people up a notch. If a family is only attending Mass every Sunday and saying the prayer before meals together, a way needs to be found to help them go farther, perhaps adding reading Scripture once a week.
A survey can also reach those who don’t attend mass regularly and help us know why they are not coming and if there is a particular need we are not meeting. It is not for confirming how great we are, she related, nor is it a gripe session. “If we’re gathering any information about what they believe,” said Herzing, “it’s to know what we need to teach on.” Survey results can be published or shared online.
In formulating a vision plan it is important to stay focused on the mission given us by Christ, to share the Good News and make disciples, she explained. Individual parishes have different takes on this because each community is different, but church members need to realize they have a personal mission as well.
What you include in your plan can affect stewardship, she added, with the four areas of focus being prayer, hospitality, formation and service. Focusing on hospitality, she stressed its importance in increasing Mass attendance through a welcoming environment, achieved by implementing some small but impactful actions. Calling this “radical hospitality,” Herzing noted they might seem “a little crazy” and “too much,” but it is not too much if it makes people feel welcome and welcomes them as Christ would welcome them.
First is having a “Doughnut Sunday,” offering hospitality in the form of free coffee, doughnuts, tamales or the like after Sunday Mass. This gives people a sense of family and, because it is free, everyone can come, since some may not have brought cash or may not be able to afford it, especially large families of meagre means. Herzing knew personally of a grateful mother who confided she could not afford to pay, but the simple treat helped her little girl look forward to attending Mass and becoming more attentive there. Not every parish can afford to do this for free, but Herzing pointed out that asking for a voluntary donation can often cover costs.
Hospitality is also a factor when people come to the church office. Is it difficult to find, forcing visitors to wander the campus, pulling and knocking on doors that then have to be buzzed into like a prison? Safety can be an issue, but try to make visiting the office an inviting experience.
Calling the office can also be exasperating, with automated systems forcing callers to spend much time trying to navigate them. “How long does it take for me to get to a person to speak to me?” asked Herzing. Perhaps a committee of volunteer receptionists could direct people where to go.
Finding where daily Mass is celebrated can be another confusing experience if one is not familiar with the set-up. Herzing told of being away from home and calling an area church to learn daily Mass times, but wasn’t told they took place in a chapel accessed through the sanctuary, so she sat waiting in an empty church. “If you want new people to come to your church,” she said, “you have to be super-welcoming.”
Having greeters at the door before Mass is also a must. “It primes the pump for having a great experience in the church,” she noted. Having a “Name Tag Sunday” helps to get to know your neighbors, as does asking Mass attendees to turn to one another and share their prayer intention for the week. “What if every person in our parish was praying for their neighbor in a very real way for a very specific intention and by name – every single week?” she asked.
Nowadays many churches are locked during the day, preventing people from finding solace there. Safety is a factor, but setting up all-day Eucharistic adoration may solve this problem. Sending birthday, baptismal or anniversary cards with the pastor’s name is also an opportunity to reach out to people, especially the elderly and millenials.
Non-Catholics, fallen away Catholics and the unchurched are in your church for funerals, baptisms and weddings, Herzing pointed out, and should be welcomed so they will want to return. Ash Wednesday, Christmas and Easter are occasions to welcome people back.
Needs of families with babies and young children should also be addressed, she related. Babies are going to cry and three-year-olds fidget. We need to tell parents we’re happy their youngsters are in church, involve them in doing the offertory, offer help and provide changing tables in the restrooms.
Just commit to one thing you are going to change to make your church more welcoming and do it really well, stated Herzing, Then work on the next one.
For more ideas from Katie Herzing on transforming your parish, visit TransformYourParish.com.
(Photos by Carol Baass Sowa)