A parish isn’t an institution, it’s a community! When new arrivals move from visitor to parishioner, there’s cause for celebration. Hosting a new parishioner welcome event is a great way to show them they belong in your community. Read on to discover tips to plan an event they’ll make sure to put on their calendar.
Planning that Reflects Your Values … and Reality
What impression do you want to leave? This may be the first event a new parishioner attends. It can set the tone for their involvement in your community. Helping new parishioners feel at home is important. Also consider how your parish values are reflected in the event. Of course, this all takes planning. Make sure your ideas are sustainable for your personnel and resources, or invite some existing parishioners to be part the team. Before you pick an event format, it could be helpful to ask yourself the following practical questions:
How many new parishioners do we have, and when do they sign up?
New parishioner data should be fairly easy to track, since it comes through your parish office. If you have a church management platform, it’s even easier! Check the movement of your numbers. For example, if you have a large influx right before the school year begins, having an all-ages family friendly event might be a good idea. If new parishioners are less frequent, or are spread out during the year, you may want to have a big event when the numbers are higher. Or perhaps host more frequent, intimate welcome events. That begs the next question …
How often can we host?
If your parish has a dedicated welcome committee, or a staff member with hospitality in their job description, it will be easier to host events more frequently. However, if this is the purview of a single dedicated volunteer, it might be easier to focus on annual or biannual events.
Where will we host?
Consider if you prefer to host these events in a parish gathering space or hall, or if something more intimate and family-style is a better fit for your parish.
This question may seem obvious. The new parishioners, of course! Still, the purpose of a welcome event is to welcome. Consider who else from the parish should be there. Is it the welcome committee? Will you invite standout new parishioners from last year who could share their stories? Or should the whole parish be invited to get in on the fun, as long as they have the “meet and greet” purpose in mind?
An Event to Remember
You may have seen parishes around you trying different ideas. There is no one perfect format for a welcome event. As long as the new parishioners feel seen, received, and engaged, a number of ideas could be effective. Here are just a few:
The Family Dinner
Breaking bread together is a universally recognized sign of welcome. If you’d like to prioritize deeper conversation in an intimate setting, a small dinner may be right for your parish. With a group of dedicated parishioners involved, this could even occur every month, where a different household offers to provide a meal. Encourage the families to get creative. Have a build-your-own pizza night, play a game, or enjoy a bonfire. Whatever the activity, this event gets your parishioners sharing life together.
Appetizers & Opportunities
Does your parish emphasize “all hands on deck” parishioner involvement? This might be the option for you! Set up some high-top tables in your main gathering space. Invite key ministry leaders to be present. Offer a simple spread of appetizers and beverages. New parishioners can easily mingle with one another and discover ways to get involved at the parish.
The Parish-Wide Celebration
Bigger welcoming festivities can give new parishioners insight in your vibrant parish life. Consider hosting a semi-annual event. This could be a standalone dinner, or it could be incorporated into the existing life of the parish, like the Lenten fish fries, bingo night, or pancake breakfast. Make sure new parishioners are personally invited, and waive any entry fees. For an event this large, unique name tags for the new arrivals will help current parishioners know where to strike up conversation.
Getting the Word Out
Now that you’ve put together a great event, make sure people get in the door. Remember that not all new parishioners may be familiar with the way your parish communicates. You’ll want to reach out in creative ways.
Utilize Your Standard Communication Channels
Advertise your event in the bulletin, on your church website, and any social media platforms you may use. Make sure to include the event in your weekly Mass announcements.
A Personal Touch Goes a Long Way
When someone is new anywhere, receiving a personal invitation can mean the world. Consider sending a printed invitation by mail, or if you’re collecting email addresses (which you should be), create an e-vite. To go the extra mile, consider individual phone calls. A dedicated welcome committee can be a big help here. Divide up the new parishioner list, provide a basic hospitality script, and get calling!
How do you help new parishioners know they belong?