Recently I was reading one of my favorite “church” blogs, Pastor Tony Morgan (The Unstuck Church Group) and came across this striking aphorism: “My church is for me, but it’s not about me.”
I am often asked what was the single most important thing we did, decision we made, or turn we took, that had the greatest impact on the renewal and rebuilding of our parish. Typically, I say that there was no silver bullet, rebuilding is about adopting the right strategy and staying obedient to it over a sustained period of time. That is not the answer a lot of church people want to hear, but it is true. There is no silver bullet. But there is a fundamental change in attitude that changes everything.
When people who are in the church, at least a critical mass of them, come to understand that church is not primarily for them but for the people who are not currently in church, that changes everything. When people who like church come to see that the church needs to be for people who don’t like church, that changes your church.
When people who are in the church, at least a critical mass of them, come to understand that church is not primarily for them but for the people who are not currently in church, that changes everything.Tweet
We, of course, are talking about Evangelization, the Church’s most fundamental mission to make disciples. It was Pope Paul VI who said it best, “The Church exists to Evangelize.” (Evangelli Nuntiandi) To really understand this, a parish has got to implement it. It does no good, it changes nothing to merely espouse this, it has got to animate the very life of the parish. Here are five basics:
Get the parishioners up out of the pews.
When a person is new to the parish, just like the baby in the family, they need to be served, they need to be taken care of. But when people stay consumers, week after week, year after year, the parish grows unhealthy and the ministry becomes unsustainable. More to the point: as long as they’re consumers they’re not growing as disciples and they’re not helping anyone else to grow either. The most basic way to make the parish not all about the church-people is to get them up out of the pews and serving.
What are they supposed to do? I’m glad you asked.
Practice radical hospitality.
While there can be many forms of service in a parish, the main focus should be on hospitality for visitors and newcomers. We like to talk about “radical” hospitality.
The word radical actually has two definitions. The first regards the roots of something, what is fundamental to the very existence of a thing. In other words, not just empty gestures or stale platitudes. Someone holding the door for guests, and energetically communicating “we’re glad to see you” is far more effective than the felt banner proclaiming “All are welcome.” The second definition regards extreme actions or activity. In other words, going beyond what people expect.
Both definitions should apply to your church and whatever size your church this is going to take a team of people to make it happen.
Talk to/preach to outsiders.
When you’ve been in church-world long enough, it’s inevitable that you begin to speak in a lingo-infused insider way. We don’t even know we’re doing it much of the time. But outsiders recognize it immediately – and it’s a clear sign to them that they don’t belong.
Talking to outsiders doesn’t mean dumbing down the faith or reaching for the lowest common denominator. It means speaking to them in language that is familiar to them. One way we do this is by never assuming knowledge of Scripture or theology (the truth is most of your insiders don’t know who wrote the Book of Acts, either).
Make it accessible to newcomers.
You know your way around your church. Your visitors don’t. You need clear wayfaring signage. No kidding: this can be a big problem. We opened our new church building a couple of years ago and are quite proud of it. But it was only recently pointed out to us that there is an almost complete lack of signage inside and out (we are in the process of fixing that this summer).
Make it easy to get around your campus and into and through your building. That helps convince people you were ready for them.
Budget for Evangelization.
If the church exists to evangelize, you shouldn’t have to fundraise for it. It should be a primary focus of your budget, no matter how big or small it is.
Most people, including almost all newcomers, engage with your church in two ways: your website and your weekend experience. Your website might be the #1 evangelization tool that you don’t think about. It is likely the first place newcomers go to find out more about you.
Take time, especially during the slower days of summertime, to consider how much your church is or is not all about the churchpeople. In ways large and small you really can change that. Ultimately the church people will thank you for it.
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What sets Nativity apart from every Catholic Church I know is that there is a seeking out of the newbies. The Next Steps kiosk is great, plus the reminders before and after Mass about stopping over there or texting to get a gift.
What I see with the other Catholic Churches is an implicit expectation that every newbie will melt into the melting pot.
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