Parish best practices: A case study in welcoming

By Kristen Hannum| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Article Parish Life

Growing parishes are the ones that nourish their members through good liturgy, faith formation, and service. They’re also parishes that accept the reality that people inevitably will leave, so there had better be good systems in place for attracting and welcoming newcomers.

St. Dominic, a head-turning Gothic revival church across the freeway from downtown Denver, employs the simple system of welcoming visitors at the beginning of Sunday Mass. “If there are any visitors, we’d ask that you stand and be acknowledged,” a lay announcer says. Almost always, an individual or a group or two stands, abashed but grinning, as the greeter brings them a holy card with a prayer to St. Dominic on it.

“Usually if someone stands up I’ll go and ask them where they’re from after Mass,” says parishioner Susan Corrigan. “Then if I see them the next Sunday, I try to say hello again.”

Corrigan exemplifies why the welcome works at St. Dominic. The congregation—a mix of older people from the gentrifying neighborhood, its longtime population of Latino families, and newcomers, often young professionals—are quick to welcome people around them in the pews. There are also greeters at every door.

Easy enough—what Corrigan does sounds like everyone’s good intentions, but Corrigan actually does it, as do many other St. Dominic parishioners. Practice, Corrigan says, makes it easier.

Dominican Father Ed Ruane, St. Dominic’s pastor, and his fellow Dominicans, dressed in their white robes, are also part of the welcome, both to longtime parishioners and newcomers. The Dominicans move up and down the aisles before Mass, saying hello to people. “It’s a chance to see how people are doing, so that’s part of the welcome we try to provide as well,” Ruane says.

Another key element of welcoming at St. Dominic is the gentle but insistent push towards getting parishioners involved. Invitations go out all year, and stewardship Sunday in September offers tables for signing up with parish ministry’s after Masses. All this builds a reputation for welcoming that means a parish will attract new members and grow.

This is a web-only sidebar that accompanies "Five habits for highly effective parishes" that appeared in the March 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 3, pages 12-17).

Want to read about more ways to help your parish become a thriving and engaging community? Here is our Special Section: Best practices for parishes.

Want to learn more best practices for your parish? See our Special Section.