Catholics Come Home: Where do we go from here?

Tue, Feb 17th 2015 08:00 am
Parishes have learned new ways to welcome and engage returning Catholics and newcomers. (WNYCatholic File)
Parishes have learned new ways to welcome and engage returning Catholics and newcomers. (WNYCatholic File)

Is the Catholics Come Home campaign over at your parish?  Let's hope not. 

Catholics Come Home was never intended to be just a four-week TV campaign.  And it certainly was not just about getting people to show up at church again.  After all, worship is essential, but not sufficient.   We are commissioned to keep the faith, but not keep it to ourselves.

The parish is bigger than those who come to Mass every week.  Do people in your parish live their faith so abundantly that it is attracting attention? Would you dare ask yourself, where do we grow from here?

Hundreds of pastoral leaders in parishes throughout the diocese learned new ways to connect, welcome and engage returning Catholics and newcomers in the Christmas season.  Several exceptional Catholic resources are available at our website, Evangelize Buffalo, or from the Office for Evangelization and Parish Life at 716-847-8393.  More Catholics will be returning on our second busiest day of the year which is Ash Wednesday.

There are exciting new ways to reach out and re-engage Catholics in the practice of our faith. New evangelization efforts have taught us about the connections between spiritual health and purposeful living, between finances and faith, between family health and Sabbath living.  Our parishes are engaging those who come to their doors in ways such as:

1. Welcome people warmly and display informational brochures for those who come to our churches hurting or inquiring about faith

2. Promote young people in leadership roles in liturgy on Sunday

3. Sponsor small church groups to help people connect faith in daily life

4. Provide a guest card or welcome packet to newcomers and visitors that includes a welcome message, and perhaps a video, CD or book, parish newsletter with schedule for upcoming events, mission passport or house blessing, a card with valuable online references (Busted Halo, Word on Fire) as well as diocesan YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook addresses and WLOF schedule

5. Sharing Catholic content through personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Established churches tend to presume that belief leads to behavior, which leads to belonging.  Contemporary seekers are more likely to start with belonging, which leads to behavior and finally to belief.  These spiritual seekers are more likely to approach us via off-campus activities and friendships before coming forward to worship with us or test our beliefs.

Parishes have succeeded in responding to those who approached during Christmas, but another important time is fast approaching. They will show up again, literally by the thousands on Ash Wednesday.  What does your parish have planned to connect, welcome and engage them?

On Ash Wednesday, you can:

1. Have a parishioner give a three-minute talk at each service about why they are Catholic or what following Christ means to them this Lent.

2. Leave the doors open for 12 hours and offer ashes to anyone who approaches by equipping 12 leaders with a simple prayer and assigning them for an hour each.

3. Promote your parish devotions and enrichment experiences through social media and enlist parishioners to join in that Good News campaign.

4. Make great Catholic spiritual reading books or CDs available for a donation (obtainable for $1 or $2 each through the Evangelization and Parish Life Office or Lighthouse Catholic Media).

5. Develop your own parish book of Lenten prayers (template available at our website or from Office for Evangelization and Parish Life at 716-847-8393.)

Spiritual seekers report being most impressed by churches that start with warm welcome and acceptance without conditions.  Once newcomers feel welcome, they investigate the activities and conduct of the congregation as evidenced by its mission and its members.  Once acquainted and satisfied, newcomers explore and appreciate the convictions that motivate the community.  One need only read the Gospels to see bountiful examples of the wisdom of this approach. 

How will your parish continue to welcome Catholics who continue to come home?

Dennis Mahaney is director of the Office of Evangelization and Parish Life.  

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