As we open registration for the fall, there is a lot of excitement to get the ball rolling on programming. To once again see teens regularly, interact with parents and talk about Jesus is something I’ve missed. Even with current Delta Variant cases on the rise, I believe ministry this year will be a whole lot better than last. However, while there have been some early registrations for our fall small groups, there is still the question, “Who’s not coming back?”
The “Who not coming back?” question isn’t a new one; however, it carries much more weight because people have formed new habits over the last year, and if they weren’t connected to parish life, then chances are they won’t jump back into it. For decades the mantra was, “Open the doors, and people will come.” but that has not been the reality for a while (even pre-pandemic).
GO WHERE PEOPLE ALREADY ARE
People didn’t just disappear, and they are not all hiding at home waiting for the end to come. People are carrying on with their NEW everyday lives. They are grabbing coffee, playing sports, and heading to the beach for vacation. But, if you are in your office, waiting for that parent or teen to respond to an email, good luck.
To go out into the mission field, you need a plan. That plan should focus on simply being present and accessible. You do not have to worry about making a sales pitch or meeting a quota; you simply need to be visible. A few suggestions of how you can be present is to discover THE COMMUNITY WELL. Back in biblical times, people gathered around the well to get water. Today that might be the local coffee house, the community pool, or soccer field. Ask people in your parish where people typically meet up, socialize and talk about life. If it’s the coffee house, set up shop and telecommute for a day each week. If it’s the soccer field, find out if some families or teens play on the teams.
Another way to get out into the community is to partner with organizations that are already in there. Our parish has connections with both Youth For Christ and Young Life. They have men and women in the schools leading faith-sharing groups, and we find ways to support and serve them. Both have the mission of reaching kids for Christ.
DO FOR ONE WHAT YOU CANNOT DO FOR ALL
To reach all the families in your parish boundaries is a lofty goal, and the idea of having that capacity can be overwhelming. Anytime you find yourself saying, “Well, if I can’t do something for all the families, then how can I do it for one?” recognize that’s not true. If you can find a parent, meet them for a bite to eat. If they’re a local business, become patronage and build a relationship with the employees. Missionary work does not have to be big numbers and instant results. It’s going out, planting seeds, and building significant relationships.
COMMISSION THOSE ALREADY ON BOARD
Going out into the mission field all on your own is never a great idea. The early apostles went out two by two, and we should do the same. It cuts down on the weirdness of being “That Guy” who shows up at community meetups when you have a partner. And the best part of partnering up is that it’s more fun.
Invite a coworker, or volunteer to visit some of these locations. Hold a team meeting in a public space. Train the catechists and small group leaders of your kids and youth programs to connect with parents and find ways of showing up at the games and events. Amplify your efforts by inviting others into the journey.
People will come back if they know we want them back. People will return if they see that there is something for them in the local Church. In the end, it comes down to relationships. Get out there, be present and get to know your mission field. Trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you and help you fill the walls of your Church campus once again.
What are other ways we can be out in the community? What has your parish seen successful?