A welcoming parish environment is a reflection of Christian hospitality. Paul exhorts the Romans to “Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.” (Romans 12:13). Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, encourages everyone to share in some way in the life of the Church. The Church is the house of the Father and we are the stewards. We must take care that we do not become obstacles to people entering the Church and encountering Jesus there.
Creating a welcoming environment within a parish involves tasks ranging from providing clean and accessible bathrooms to engaging, relevant homilies. Visitors begin formulating an impression about your parish from the moment they pull into the parking lot. Attitudes and responses to liturgy and parish programming may be affected both positively and negatively the moment they walk through the church doors.
Many times, aspects of creating a welcoming environment are neglected or overlooked within parish life because the task of creating a welcoming environment is not assigned to a particular person or committee. If creating a welcoming environment is everyone’s responsibility, it often becomes no one’s responsibility. This section of the binder suggests several ways that your parish can become more welcoming to both parishioners and visitors alike. This resource is by no means exhaustive, it simply suggests the most practical and accessible ways to potentially enhance the overall parish environment.
Following are some specific actions that a parish can undertake to create a more welcoming environment.
Date to be Completed:
☐ As a pastoral team, assess the current environment in your parish.
☐ Appoint a welcome coordinator:
☐ Assign someone to oversee your welcoming environment strategy. This person could be a staff member or a volunteer, but ideally would be
included in parish planning meetings.
Name a few people who might fit:
☐ Select and invite 6-8 people to be a part of a welcoming environment team.
☐ This team will help to envision the most welcoming environment within the parish and will consult the pastor and his team to help implement.
☐ Set-up a two-year plan for increasing the welcoming environment of your parish.
☐ Assess the effectiveness of your new welcoming environment items.
How to do this
Some ways to assess the current parish environment:
Brainstorm as a pastoral team… “If you were a stranger walking into your church on a Sunday, what would your experience be like?”
Invite someone who is not a parishioner to do a ‘walk-through’ of your parish campus. Start in the parking lot and attempt to complete various tasks like visiting the parish office, registering for a Bible study or attending a Mass on Sunday and a weekday. Ask for their feedback about the experience.
As a pastoral staff member, do your own ‘walk-through’ during the weekend liturgies as well as during the weekday programming.
Consider using a parish-wide survey to assess your parish’s current welcoming environment. Either a paper survey or a tool like SurveyMonkey.com could be used.
There are many suggestions for improving the overall welcoming environment in your parish provided within the resource section below and again this list is by no means exhaustive. Take some time to plan out a path toward a more inviting parish. You might:
Choose one new item to be implemented each month. Consider using the items listed in the ‘Idea’ section in one of the resource websites, or come up with your own ideas.
Consider that your ideas may be more effective for one audience. For example, do you wish to focus on: enhancing the church experience for existing parishioners, encouraging new parishioners and/or drawing visitors to your parish?
Make sure that your parish database is up to date with parishioners’ contact information. Email addresses for every parishioner are an important piece of information that can help you easily communicate with parishioners. A postcard campaign over two or three Sundays can make the acquisition of parishioner emails quick and easy.
Ways of assessing the effectiveness:
Ask parishioners who are new to the parish to evaluate their experience of joining the parish since you have implemented your changes.
Consider resurveying a sampling of the parish to see if the changes have been effective
Ideas for creating a welcoming environment
It is not intended that every parish will implement every idea listed in this section. Most of the ideas presented here are from parishes within our diocese.
New Parishioner Registration
Provide parish registration online on your website.
Staff a welcome/Information booth: Set up a booth in the narthex of the church on the weekend where new parishioners can register or visitors can obtain information about your parish.
Add new members to the FAITH magazine subscription list.
New Parishioner Welcome
Establish a welcome coordinator. Put the welcome coordinator’s name and contact information on all welcome material. The welcome coordinator will help new parishioners navigate the parish structure and connect to the right staff people (i.e., young families connected to DRE, new parents connected to baptismal preparation).
Welcome coordinator: Send a letter of welcome to new parishioners within the first week after they have registered.
Pastor: Send a letter of welcome and introduction to new parishioners. Invite the new parishioners to introduce themselves to you after Mass.
Have a parish booklet that describes the ministries of the parish.
Create a welcome basket for new families. The basket might include a parish directory, a booklet describing ministries available in the parish, Mass and reconciliation times, prayer card of the parish’s patron saint, a crucifix for the home. It could also include items for the home such as potholders or a kitchen towel (some parishes have women’s groups or quilters who could make something for the basket).
Divide the parish into ‘neighborhoods.’ Have a welcome committee from each neighborhood.
Schedule a time for the pastor, deacon and/or the welcome coordinator to visit the new family. If a priest or deacon is present, offer to bless the home. If welcome baskets are part of the new parishioner welcome, this would be a good time to give them the welcome basket.
Have a monthly, quarterly or bi-annual welcome dinner for all new parishioners who have signed up within the time period. Have as many staff members as possible present to meet the new parishioners.
Welcome existing parishioners
Staff welcome/information booth at all weekend Masses:
Allow sign-up for baptism classes, marriage prep classes, or faith formation classes. Mass cards could be made available as well.
Train hospitality greeters. Show your appreciation for their service by thanking them often. Have a yearly celebration of their service with a meal.
Have hospitality greeters at the doors before Mass. Consider greeters after Mass as well.
Plan special welcome reception to take place during the Easter and Christmas liturgical seasons.
Offer a baby-sitting ministry in your parish during events.
Keeping people connected and up-to-date
Create a communications plan that includes multiple media platforms: print, Internet, phone, one-on-one, etc.
Collect email addresses from as many parishioners as possible. If possible, collect email addresses from both parents as well as young adults and teenagers.
Use a mass email program to touch base with parishioners on a regular basis. Many programs exist that can do this such as Constant Contact or Mailchimp. You could send:
A monthly or quarterly newsletter
The weekly bulletin
A synopsis of the Sunday homily
One or two current events from the parish
FAITH magazine (email form)
Make sure your website is up-to-date and kept fresh. Are the Mass times easy to find and correct? Is the parish address prominently displayed? Are staff member names, phone numbers and email addresses available?
Conduct a yearly phone campaign. Have several callers contact every registered household with a pre-determined script. You might ask: Is your parish record up to date?
Have there been any changes in your household (marriage, new baby, young adult moved out, death, etc.)?
Would you like your home blessed?
Can the parish help you in some way?
Would you like to help in the parish in some way?
Get to know the pastor; get to know the parishioners
Schedule meetings between the pastor and parishioners (this may work better for smaller parishes).
Schedule visits at a parishioner’s home with the pastor and several other parishioners. This may work better for larger parishes where the pastor is not able to meet individually with every household.
General Campus Improvements
Review the current traffic flow and if need be, design a logical traffic flow for both cars and pedestrians.
Make sure that vital areas of the parish are well marked. For example, can people find the bathrooms easily at your parish? Can they find the parish office if they are not familiar with the campus?
Make sure the parish campus is well-lit.
Things to Consider in Assessment
Parish campus grounds
Accessibility (Keeping in mind handicap)
Well marked and easy to find
My Parish App
Email blasts, newsletter
Social media – Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Signage on campus
Diocesan parishioner e-news
Bishop and diocesan Facebook and Twitter feeds
Catholic Event Finder
Quality of Liturgies
Relevant & engaging homilies
Appropriate day of week and time of day
Rebuilt, Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Ave Maria Press
Tools for Rebuilding, Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Ave Maria Press