Quick Takes: Connecting, Defrosting, Welcoming, Phoning… and did I mention Church App?!
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We’ve now met with 114 parishioners through our At Homes (around a quarter of those who are registered), which I wrote about here. Every single one is so different – varied groups of people mean different conversations, different atmospheres, and although we have now gone along to 12 of these drinks’ parties, I don’t think we’d ever get bored. We have fascinating conversations, get to know people on a much deeper level than a quick chat after Mass, and it’s given us a much clearer insight into the parish, relatively quickly. (Yes, you can tell I’d highly recommend this approach.) As we begin new initiatives such as Alpha, or as the need arises for volunteer roles, it also means we have a much better idea of who we might be able to ask. However, far beyond the insight it’s given us, the greatest benefit seems to be a greater sense of connectedness among many. Just little comments reveal this: “We often walk to Mass together now” or, “I’m meeting so-and-so for lunch soon”… these have been stimulated by the At Homes. Many, too, have commented on the fact that Mass feels “friendlier”. Perhaps nothing much has changed, but it seems to have done the world of good, just to have 25% of our parishioners spend an evening together in each other’s homes.
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I’ll tell you something that is really floating my boat. Church App! We are loving this church management system. I am still getting to grips with it, but so far, it is easy to use and has made our admin and communications a lot quicker and smoother. In Church App, there are various modules you can use, for example, you could just use it for an address book. But we are using all the modules, including rotas and calendar. When we get to introducing them, we can also use it for small groups and children’s ministry. The best thing is that your church members can activate their own account and control the updating of their own details and how they want the church to communicate with them (either by email or text). They can also download the app onto their phone and have quick access to event sign-ups, rota-swaps and (when we get to it) personal giving. It is just a Godsend to be able to send a text to all the men in our parish, for example, to remind them that ‘Dads and Doughnuts’ is on tomorrow morning (our regular Saturday when the men come to help out with maintenance jobs, doughnuts, and prayer!). If you find your databases a nightmare and want to be able to communicate swiftly with parishioners, I would highly recommend this system.
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There are some really, really simple things we can do to improve people’s experience on Sundays. These changes can be made even as we are only beginning an evangelisation and disciple-making process, even without fully-fledged disciples. Here’s what we’re doing. At just one of the Sunday Masses (the evening one), we have launched a hospitality team. This team meets together in the crypt 45 minutes before the beginning of Mass. We share stories from last week and updates on events that we are promoting that day. Then, we take time to pray for everyone who will come to that Mass. The music ministry join us too, so this is a time of prayer for all the teams together. 30 minutes before Mass starts, we head up to church. The music ministry starts playing, helping those who arrive early prepare for Mass. On summer evenings, we are amazed at those who pass on the street and wander in, attracted by the music. Meanwhile, our hospitality team is stationing itself at different areas. We normally have two people outside the church. The idea is upbeat hellos and big smiles. Someone else is welcoming in the porch, and then they receive the books they need once inside the church. From the last month or so of doing this, several things seem to make a difference, but smiling and eye contact is key. It’s giving a message that we are here to worship together, not just individually and anonymously. We are trying to communicate to every person, “We’re so glad you’re here!” Having young and high-energy people outside the church works wonders. During the first few weeks, the discomfort on some faces was apparent. But as the weeks have gone on, the smiles thrown back are getting wider. The conversations outside church before and after Mass are becoming more natural, full of laughter and fun. I feel like we’re defrosting the parish a little. And I’ve heard several stories along the lines of: “My friend went to that Mass last week and she said she LOVED the welcome she got!”
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One of my weekly jobs at the moment is pretty fun. (Well, I’ll enjoy it until we appoint a volunteer New Parishioners Coordinator, which we hope to do soon.) In every pew, and with the Hospitality Team members, we have Welcome Cards. These very simply explain the process of joining the parish, and on the other side ask for a person’s name, email and phone number. Within ten days, I call the person and invite them to a new parishioners’ welcome event. (We are planning to hold one roughly every two months.) Often I get voicemail, but sometimes I have spoken directly with the person and some great conversations have ensued. Mainly expressing bemusement that someone has actually called them. They can sign up easily for the new parishioners’ event (did I mention Church App?!?!) and here, if they like the sound of the vision for the parish, they can formally register (yep, you got it….on, er, Church App!). In the last month or so, we’ve had around 50 welcome cards handed in, so I am spending a little portion of each week on the phone, and 20 have signed up for the event in June. It’s working well so far, and I can’t wait to hand it over to our New Parishioners’ Coordinator so they can share the joy of this too!
There you go… Just four little peeks into the early days of this mission of renewal. More to come…