"[The Church] must constantly seek the proper means and language for presenting, or representing, to them God's revelation and faith in Jesus Christ." – Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 56
As we close the Christmas season, you are probably already planning for Lent. Planning for this season allows us to look at two ways to engage people with our faith communities — outreach through advertising and what people take away from the event.
When it comes to advertising, we probably have many avenues we already utilize — the bulletin, website, social media, mailing to parishioners, etc. How can we think beyond that? Consider the audience you are trying to reach and what places they may frequent or gather. Could you post a flyer at a local diner, bowling alley or pickleball arena? If it is a family-friendly community event, you could ask local elementary schools (public and Catholic) to share the event with families. Some of your parishioners may be able to do this for you. I saw a local church do this at Halloween for their Trunk or Treat event. If you have parishioners from a local senior center, would that be another avenue to advertise and invite other residents to events?
Consider these two questions when planning an event:
What do we want people to walk away with at the end of this experience (figuratively and literally)?
What would be next (ranging from a follow-up phone call, to an invitation to an event, to building relationships)?
Your response to these questions could vary based on the event's goals. If you are trying to build engagement with the community, you may want them to walk away with more information about the parish and the faith. If your goal is building ecumenical relationships, share resources that show commonality and invite them to another opportunity to pray together. If you are striving to help people witness more, have options to sign-up to share their testimony with the parish.
Lent provides us with some opportunities to do this in a concentrated way. Here are three possible parish happenings to consider these areas as you engage the community in the Lenten season.
1. Family-Focused Event (i.e., a story time for kids)
Have a memorable giveaway that children get to take home. One church did this with a station where balloon animals were made right before the children's eyes and put in a festive bag for carrying. That bag had a simple sticker on the back that thanked people for coming and let them know more information was inside. Inside the bag were two things. One was a simple postcard that gave easy-to-read information about the church and the contact information (with a picture) for the three staff members that a family attending the event would most likely contact on the other side. The bag also included a small book about the importance of the Gospel that had the Kerygma in it and reflection questions for the child at the end. The Office of Engagement would be happy to help you create resources like this that you can utilize with families at your parish.
2. Fish Frys
A fixture in many Families of Parishes is a yearly Fish Fry. These are opportunities to engage local people from the community as well as visitors. Have information at each table (postcards or table tents with QR codes) about a few events that would specifically appeal to those attending. Depending on your audience, this could be a family-friendly story time, a healing prayer service or a community service project your parish is hosting. Let people know the pertinent information and what they need to do to participate. Consider updating this throughout Lent so that people who come weekly see fresh content. Also, consider having a registration kiosk at the Fish Fry so people can quickly join your parish when thinking about it. Then you can follow up with them in the next week.
3. Ash Wednesday
Find ways for visitors who come on Ash Wednesday to engage more with your parish. Perhaps you have someone in your narthex who can answer visitors' questions. You can have informational postcards, flyers or QR codes about occasions you have that are Lent-specific (e.g., Stations of the Cross, Soup Suppers, Fish Frys, etc.). Since we know people often commit to some penance or faith practice during the Lenten season, consider ways you could assist them. Do you have prayer opportunities they can participate in (Sacrament of Reconciliation, Rosary, Adoration, etc.)? Do they know of the built-in prayer prompts in your parish app? Considering what they may need to grow in holiness this Lent can help you determine the best ways to engage.
These are just a few ideas for engaging during the Lenten season. May our efforts help people engage with our faith communities, grow closer to the Lord and echo the words of Psalm 122:1-2:
I rejoiced when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the LORD."
And now our feet are standing
within your gates, Jerusalem.