Along the synod journey, a young family came to our parish for Holy Thursday, on my invitation. I was late getting there and so only had a few minutes to welcome them and orient them to the space and the liturgy. They are seekers…one is not Catholic. Three kids under 5. And I fear their first impressions did not leave them feeling as if this is a place they can seek, they can bring their active and unchurched children…they can belong. I’m not sure if I’ll get another chance to help them enter in, feel belonging and so to see themselves seeking the Living God among us. So this blog post is me talking to me and to my parish, as much as it is for you! I’m preaching to myself…about invitability and joinability.
First, you’re right…”invitability” is not a real word. Rich Birch made it up to capture the idea that some churches seem to be easier to invite friends to than others. On one end is the parish whose people never invite friends to join them and on the other end is the parish whose members are constantly inviting people to “what’s happening this Sunday!”[i] As this blog series on “They’re not coming back” comes to a close, we are going to take a look at this concept, adapted for Catholic parishes.
Why is “invitability” important? “The factor separating churches that are growing from those that aren’t is that growing churches have a robust invite culture.”[ii] I know, I know…Catholics just don’t do that. People come to the Catholic Church on their own, because they are Catholic and Catholics go to Mass, right? Perhaps, for an increasingly small number, this is true. But we now know that is not enough. In a previous blog, I noted that people join organizations when there’s something in it for them. So what’s happening in your parish that is so good others need to be invited to share in it? And how deeply do the currently engaged parishioners understand themselves as responsible for going out and doing the inviting, as Jesus commanded?
Share this on social media. Get the conversation started! “The factor separating churches that are growing from those that aren’t is that growing churches have a robust invite culture.”[iii]
So why is inviting important?
It’s part of the Great Commission. It is through active, engaged members that Jesus saves the world!
It is part of the baptismal responsibility of every Christian, to go out, reach out…to invite.
It is a means for growth. It is the way that parishes grow (or re-grow) membership.
How do you measure invitability? Have a group of engaged parishioners and parish leadership answer these questions to gauge the level of invitability in your parish:
1. When was the last time you invited someone to your church? What happened when you asked? What happened when your guest came to church? If you have not invited someone recently, why not? What is holding you back?
2. When was the last time someone you know in the parish shared with you a story of inviting someone to church? What part of that experience was positive? What part was hard or negative?
3. How urgently does your parish see the need to go out into the community designated by the parish boundaries? If it’s low urgency, what would raise that level? If it’s high urgency, with whom are you connecting and does the connection include a consistent invitation to join the parish’s activities?
What did you discover? Spend some time with these discoveries, asking the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears, and to point the way to go now.
What parish invitability factors are people most likely to talk with their friends about? These four factors emerged from a Gallup poll that asked people to rate the reasons they attend church.[iv] How well does your parish fare in these areas?
Homilies that unpack the Scriptures so that listeners feel better educated and inspired. Are timeless truths grounded in Scripture and Tradition shared on a regular basis? Can you trust this will be so and therefore are comfortable inviting someone to come and hear?
Homilies that connect faith to life. Does the homilist compellingly answer the question “What difference does this make in our lives today?”
Spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers. Raising children is a universal human experience. Parents desire the best for their children, and this includes passing on the Good News of Jesus Christ in compelling ways. Does the parish offer a wide variety of ways to support parents in their desire to raise children in the ways of faith? Are those offerings compelling, according to the children and teens?
Ample amounts of community outreach and volunteer opportunities. Remember, people join organizations to make meaningful contributions toward things that matter. Define your mission. Tie your ministries to elements of the mission. Structure them so that there are both short and long term commitments, things that can be done without formation and ministries that require formation, mentors and companions. Identify works that ecumenical households can do together (remembering that upwards of 50% of married people in your parish are married to one who is not Catholic).
Once you have identified your invitability strengths and weaknesses, equip your involved parishioners with words, written invitations, calendars, and suggestions about when and where to invite. It does not come naturally to most Catholics, but it is constitutive of being a Christian: to invite others to share in the Good News of Jesus Christ, lived out here and now! And remember, there’s a loneliness epidemic that this invitation might just assuage.
OK---so you’re working on invitability. What about joinability? How easy or hard is it for people to join in parish activities? To join the parish? To participate in just one ministry?
One of the first things I noticed about the Catholic Church when I started hanging around is that, if you wanted to join an activity, a ministry, or the parish, you had to be willing to take a fair number of steps, on your own, and those steps were not always easy. Call a number, go to a website, find a person in a certain location, fill out a card and wait for a response, get a background check, obtain a copy of your baptismal certificate, and the list can go on and on. My point is this: joining needs to be made as simple as possible initially. And the simplest? A personal invitation to come along with you. (Invitability…this time on the inside!) You’ll continue to invite, this time those already in the door, and accompany them, if they express interest, until the person is connected.
So how “joinable” is your parish? Ask yourself these questions:
1. How many steps does someone have to go through to connect to an interest? How many of those steps can be done while the person is first engaged with the idea/invitation? Are there people there to accompany them?
2. Is it possible to participate in an activity or an event without belonging to the parish or being Catholic? Is that clear?
3. If an invitation is offered or a request made for participation, how hard or easy is it to find the right people to connect with? How long does it take? How welcoming are they? How fast do you get started? (Bonus: Click here for a bonus- 7 ways to make it easier to join up/join in
4. Are skills, expectations and time commitments clear?
5. Are there mentors, companions and buddies offered to accompany folks?
6. Do relationships precede requirements/paperwork?
7. Is it easy to learn about various entry-points to connect to the parish on the website? Facebook or Instagram?
Invitability and joinability…two elements in the process of building relationships between the parish and its people. It’s up to parish leaders to figure out “now what?” What needs enhanced and highlighted? What activities need warm, welcoming people to be their first connection? What needs a better system or process to connect? Who has experienced really great invitability, joinability and companionship? Where do we find them? How can we learn from them?
This blog series connects to the synodal idea of participation. Many parishes do not have great participation from those who have “come back.” Other parishes are not seeing their registered parishioners return. No matter where you find yourself in these unusual times, remember:
1. We have Good News to share: Jesus and a community to whom you may belong, now and into eternity!
2. We have Good News: Jesus and the community are antidotes to the loneliness epidemic!
3. Good news! We have meaningful, important work to do: to create vital touchstones that transform people’s lives, and then to equip our engaged members with the tools to go out and invite others.
4. A challenge to the leaders: evaluate and adjust invitability and joinability elements so that when “they” come, we are prepared to gather them in!
Share these tidbits on your website or social media platform:
1. We have Good News to share: Jesus and a community to whom you may belong, now and into eternity! 2. We have Good News: Jesus and the community are antidotes to the loneliness epidemic! 3. Good news! We have meaningful, important work to do: To create vital touchstones that transform people’s lives, and then to equip our engaged members with the tools to go out and invite others.
Synodality is about journeying together. Join us on the #synodjourney Let’s do this work together around initial invitation, relationship, connection and then commitment so that we actually journey together, on purpose, by design!
This concludes our first blog series on Connections and Coming Back. Next up, we’ll be taking a look at another parish pain point: Understanding synodality. Want to make sure to hear when we’re launching this? Join our contact list: www.pentecostvigilproject.org
[i] Rich Birch. “5 Questions about Invitability and Its Impact on your Church.” April 30, 2019 Unseminary. https://unseminary.com/5-questions-about-invitability-and-its-impact-on-your-church/ Accessed 5/21/2022 [ii] Ibid. [iii] Ibid. [iv] https://news.gallup.com/poll/208529/sermon-content-appeals-churchgoers.aspx Photo by C. Alengula on Unsplash