For those of us already involved in our parishes, it no longer seems “hard” to join. We’ve forgotten if it was easy or hard, and it’s doubtful that we are paying much attention to what others are experiencing if they are trying to join. But here’s a close-to-universal truth: every parish I know anything about wants more people to be involved in the parish. Every. Single. One. But recruitment efforts never seem to be very effective. Is there no hope?
There is hope! Social scientists offer three notions, that if attended to intentionally, will make joining your parish and joining in the activities within the parish attractive. So let’s explore them through the lens of our parish’s ongoing desire for connections.
Marketing professionals know this acronym: WIIFM. What’s In It For Me? People join organizations because they can identify what they will get out of participation. I know, I know. People feel as if they should not join parishes or ministries based on what’s in it for them. So selfish, right? But think for a minute about why people said they stopped coming or don’t come: I am not getting anything out of it. Or my spiritual needs were not being met. Or there’s nothing there for my kids. Each one of those statements reveals that the individual did not find something in there for them…something they feel is critical. People join organizations because they see clear personal benefits for joining and even more benefits for contributing/participating.
So what might you do with this insight? Take time with some of your involved parishioners and ask the question: What do individuals/families gain by joining our parish? Or put another way, what critical elements for a good, holy and beautiful life are we offering others? Answer specifically. Get stories. Use photographs. Take a look at the last blog about the relationship between religious practice and a reduction in loneliness, to start with. What’s in it for THEM? Not what are YOU offering! What’s in it for THEM?
Host a parish listening session with this question: What do individuals/families gain by joining our parish?
Next, people join organizations because they feel they can make a meaningful contribution. So take a minute and ask yourself:
Do the people in your parish understand the value of the time, talent and treasure they offer?
The worship they give?
The kindness they share?
Are the leaders clear about how each of these gifts contributes to the vitality of the parish?
Or how engagement with the parish will enable them to contribute to the coming of God’s kingdom in their other spheres of influence?
Are there opportunities to make meaningful contributions with varying time limits?
When someone does join the parish, do you ask them what will make their membership meaningful for them?
Do you ask them if they already have a calling or vocation they’d like to share or one that needs depth, grounding or skills to live out?
Is it easy for new folks to look around and see what’s happening , discover burning needs, and ask questions?
You know of course, that so many people believe the only “meaningful thing” their parish wants from them is money. A close second may well be the parish wants free labor: cut the grass, plant flowers, scrub the church, teach the kids, proctor the hallways, read the Scriptures, wash the linens. Before you screech, I know that each of these contributions creates a healthy functioning part of the Body of Christ. But others only see free labor…"grunt work" as they call it. And they do not see it as meaningful. What are you doing to help them understand the metaphor of the Body of Christ, with all parts functioning together to create a vital expression of God-with-us? And how are you inviting people to share with you what THEY find meaningful work in the parish?
Lastly, people join organizations when they see that the organization walks its talk. They join when they can see the parish is structurally, programmatically, and practically put together to live out its values and accomplish its part of the Church’s mission. A corollary to that is that people join organizations because their values align with those of the organization.
Frankly, it’s no longer the case that some sort of generational Catholicism or good old Catholic guilt brings people to parishes. Add to that the fact that the Church has had some epic, glaring, sinful, criminal failures in living out Jesus’ values and mission. Integrity is hard to see and harder to trust. But while that is true, most local parishes are working toward living out Christ’s values and at least part of his mission. But, is this clear to those considering joining and/or returning?
To find out, have engaged parishioners and leaders answer these questions:
What is our parish’s mission within the larger mission of the Church? What pieces of cooperating for God’s kingdom to come on the earth as it is in heaven has God entrusted to us?
Are our mission elements clearly articulated and understood by everyone?
Are our ministries organized to carry out these pieces of the mission? In other words, can we tie each ministry to part of our parish’s purposes? Bonus: Check out this article from Carey Nieuwhof “How to get your church passionate about your mission.” https://careynieuwhof.com/how-to-get-your-church-passionate-about-your-mission/
What makes our parish’s part of the mission different from the neighboring parish’s? What do we share in common? Why do we duplicate efforts? Who or what is inside OUR parish boundaries, entrusted to us to touch with Christ’s loving presence?
What parts of Jesus’ message do we need to fully embrace in order to carry out our mission? How is that happening?
How do those visiting us recognize our mission? Are they invited to support it, even briefly?
When people come to join, do we make our mission clear and ask for their participation in specific, concrete ways?
This is why people join any organization, including a parish. WIIFM: What’s in it for me? Can I make a meaningful contribution? Does the organization walk its talk? Do their deeds match their words, their ministries match their mission? How does your parish stack up? What needs to change in order for you to be a place people WANT to journey together, giving and receiving Christ’s love?
Synodality: journeying together with Christ, actively participating with Him in the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And this is carried out intentionally, by paying attention to why people join organizations to begin with! So let’s be intentional! Let's be on the #synodjourney
Next: Invitability and joinability (yeah, they might not be real words, but you get the idea!)[i]
[i] Inspired by https://orgvitality.com/why-do-people-join-organizations/ Accessed 5/23/22 Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash