5 Steps to Engage Inactive Parishioners

November 29, 2018  •   LPi

team with hands together

It happens at every parish. Your parishioner records have one account of families. You know how many people your church holds, so you can make an educated guess on your Sunday average. And then there’s the collection basket. And the volunteer sign-ups. And the religious education enrollment. When taken together, the numbers don’t quite add up. Not everyone registered is showing up on Sundays, and not every Sunday Mass-goer is financially supporting the parish. Some registered parishioners have enrolled their children in faith formation programs but little else. And an often-quoted study  found that only 7% of parishioners are actively engaged.

The average parish office knows all of this information in their head. But how often is that data integrated for effective engagement? With a comprehensive management and engagement platform, engaging inactive parishioners is possible, measurable, and simplified.


Step 1: Collect & Track the Data You Need

Most churches have a parishioner registration form that collects basic information, including past sacramental reception, contact information, and ministry interests. Whether this data collection is stored in a filing cabinet, spreadsheet, or ChMS varies from parish to parish. To leverage your data for engagement, you’ll need to collect relevant data in one common location.

  • Parishioners: For each parishioner, you’ll want to know basic information — where they live, their contact information, and how long they’ve been a member of your church. You’ll also want to know their family relationships and everyone’s sacramental progress.
  • Involvement: Most parishes have multiple entry points. Faith formation enrollment, volunteer opportunities, event attendance, and leadership positions should all be noted and logged in a common location.
  • Giving: It’s standard practice for nonprofit organizations to log their donors’ gifts. They’ll track and store the regularity, the amount, and the means by which the money was donated. Do you?


Step 2: Determine Inactive Parishioners

As you prepare your targeted outreach, you’ll need to determine your criteria for “inactive parishioner.” Without concrete Sunday “check-ins,” you may need to get creative. Make sure your criteria is measurable according to the data you’ve collected. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Parishioners with school-age children not involved in the faith formation program
  • Parishioners who have not donated to the parish in X amount of months
  • Parishioners who have never been involved in a ministry or volunteer opportunity, or have not been engaged for X amount of time

Once you have your criteria, you can use your management platform to run reports on parishioner lists. Your staff may want to sort through these auto-generated lists to identify any anomalies. For example, someone may show up as “disengaged” from volunteering for the past five years … but they’re also 85 years old.


Step 3: Plan & Target Your Engagement Efforts

Depending on your parish priorities, this will look different. If your efforts are an overall engagement boost, the generally “inactive” parishioners can be grouped together into one initiative. You can also segment your efforts according to the criteria. Give the religious education information to your DRE. Give the financial information to the business administrator or stewardship council chair. Give the ministry or volunteer information to the coordinator of adult faith formation, evangelization, or parish life.


Step 4: Reach Out & Track Your Progress

Once you’ve identified the parishioners and delegated communication, you can begin the process of invitation. You may be inviting the “inactive members” to a church social, a ministry fair, or simply back to Mass. Whatever the concrete action, there are plenty of ways to communicate your message. Some church management platforms can be synced with email, offering an easy way to directly communicate with the parishioners you’ve identified. Mailers could be more effective for certain age demographics. Phone calls, while time-consuming, are the most personal. Whatever you choose, log your progress directly in your management platform. If you’re working as a team, this can be helpful to avoid over-communicating. It also logs the progress as data that you can measure at a later date.


Step 5: Measure Your Efforts over Time

Accurate engagement data can be difficult to gather if you rely only on your staff member’s “mental notes” at the next event! With a comprehensive management platform, any steps the parishioner takes can be tracked as well. When parishioners start enrolling their children, signing up for online donations, or RSVPing to an event, this information can sync to their parishioner profile. After several months of the engagement campaign, you can run reports on the same parishioner set from Step 2 and compare your results. There are complex human stories behind that hard data! But the numbers can prove incredibly useful for planning your next engagement outreach.


Looking for a platform that does all this and more? Learn more about LPi’s WeGather here.


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