How would you describe a parish with a strong sense of community? You might say it’s warm and welcoming. It’s a place where people care for you and make you feel like you belong. It’s a place where there is fellowship and laughter, and everyone feels like family.
Parishes, with their many gifts, graces, and sacraments – with Jesus Himself at the center – ought to be great at this. Some parishes are great at this, but some are not. The Advent and Christmas Masses are typically packed with new people. What will they find when they arrive?
If you’re worried, don’t despair. Even if you aren’t a staff person at your parish, you can still improve the culture there.
Here are 4 ways to build community at your parish:
Our communion with God establishes our communion with one another. Since we commune with God through prayer, this means that as a community prays together, its sense of community increases.
Now, the Mass is obviously a powerful source of communion, but we can’t rest on our laurels. Let’s consider other ways to establish community through prayer. You could create guides to help people pray with the statues, stations, icons, and altars in your church. You could keep the church doors unlocked more often so that people could pray even at odd hours of the day. You could have prayer teams available after Mass so that anyone who needs prayer has someone to go to.
Most importantly, you could start surrounding all your parish-related decisions in prayer. Imagine how effective our ministries would be if only we prayed about them first!
The first and only interaction many people have with your parish is on Sunday. So, how everyone at the parish greets visitors at that time is very important. You can train ushers in the art of community-building, but it can all be undone by one negative interaction with a parishioner.
So, smile. Be friendly. Create a “Welcome Table” with helpful people who can address questions and concerns. Secretaries, smile when you answer the phone! Everyone, smile instead of grumbling.
Is a noisy family sitting in front of you? Smile at them. Has a parent climbed over you three times now to take someone to the bathroom? Smile at them – and not with a fake smile, but with a smile that says, “I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad you’re here, too.”
If that kind of joy doesn’t come readily, pray for it. “Jesus, remind me how blessed I am, and make me a source of blessing for others.”
Sometimes the scariest place to be is the place where you don’t know anyone. What can we do to not only be friendly but to actually make friends?
The next time you’re at the parish, ask yourself, “How well do I know these people?” The person sitting next to you, do you know his name? Do you know where he’s from and what he does for a living? Do you how long he’s been a parishioner or if he’s even Catholic? If you don’t, find out!
Also, take charge of your own friend-making. If no one is reaching out to you, reach out to them. Befriend the people who are new or different. As they say in Cursillo, “Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Jesus!”
Once you’ve made friends, engage in intentional friendship. Care about their physical and spiritual wellbeing. That’s what accompaniment is, and it’s vital to creating any real sense of community.
Be patient with people. Everyone’s at a different place in their journey. Listen to them. Talk honestly about your relationship with Jesus. Give them the space to talk about their relationship, too.
Finally, mentor others and be mentored yourself. No one’s meant to travel the road to heaven alone. Road trips are always better with friends, and yes, even with family.