As we work through assessing the spiritual state of our parishes, the importance of relationships and of sharing our faith — the next natural step is to gauge our parish culture. The fourth pillar of evangelization is specific to a welcoming parish culture, which is an integral component in both retention and acquisition of parishioners at each of our 126 parishes. 

Our parishes need to be warm and inviting places where people feel they belong. Part of the challenge with this assessment is being critical and objective. For long-time parishioners, it’s easy to view our parish culture through rose-colored glasses and feel that we are the most welcoming place on earth. It is helpful to ask new parishioners to provide critical feedback or invite a friend to be an “undercover visitor” and provide detailed feedback of their experience at your parish. It is important to note that the passionate parishioners who work hard in making our parishes more welcoming must be acknowledged and that critical feedback not be taken personally.

First impressions matter. As an example, it is critical that every parish have a greeter ministry and a systematic welcome process. We need to welcome people into our Church how we welcome people into our own homes. As a side note, a few “friendly parishioners” that congregate in the church vestibule before Mass do not constitute a greeter ministry. Parishes should have a schedule for greeters as they do for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or Readers and provide training for them as well.  Additionally, occupying a two-by-two square-foot piece of floor at the church entrance while handing out bulletins is not an effective greeter ministry. When greeters focus solely on greeting, they focus on people and that’s what makes the difference.

A warm and friendly parish culture does not happen by accident. It takes time, effort and action. For example, a hospitality ministry is another major component to fostering a welcoming parish culture. “Hospitality” at a parish can mean different things to different people, but to keep it simple, I am referring to providing a time to gather socially with fellow parishioners after each Mass every weekend with coffee and donuts or other treats. Hospitality provides an opportunity for people to socialize, build community, and grow in their relationships with each other. It is difficult to nurture parish family life if the opportunity to gather socially does not exist.

As discussed in an earlier column, evangelization is everyone’s responsibility. A few ways we can lead by example include the following: identify visitors or new parishioners and make them feel welcome; learn and call people by name; slide over and sit in the middle of a pew, which serves as an invitation for someone to sit with you; and lastly, be happy to share “your seat” with someone when you arrive and find it occupied. All of these things may seem small, but in aggregate make for a large impact as it relates to a warm and welcoming parish culture.

Stay tuned for the next column of Everyday Evangelization when we will discuss the topic of buildings vs. people.

Please contact me with any questions about boosting evangelization efforts at your parish at Thomas.Cronin@rcda.org or by visiting https://www.rcda.org/evangelization. And follow me on Instagram at tom_rcda.