Unleash the Gospel calls us to live the 29th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles , continuing the church’s mission in our ministry to others. To do this well requires that we know the people to whom we minister. Jesus stated, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). Can we say we know each sheep of our parish? Are we doing the best we can to pastorally understand the needs of the people we minister to? Can they tell that we care enough to intentionally know their interests and what brought them to the parish? A key element of marketing is knowing one’s audience and identifying a target buyer; we need to use some of this same intention in the parishes.
We must acknowledge and plan for the generational differences present in our parish communities. When we understand the differences between generations, we can minister more effectively to them. For example, all young people are often grouped together, but in reality there are some big differences between the generations, even when they’re close in age! In general, Millennials — those 25 to 36 years of age — tend to be very service oriented and optimistic, whereas those in Generation Z — ages of 15 to 24 — are typically more realistic and concerned with social change. These differences need to be taken into account when planning ministry opportunities, as well as how we communicate with them. Making sure your message is available in many formats, both in print and digitally, will reach both younger and older generations. We can show the people to whom we minister that we recognize their needs by, well, meeting them.
Each person we minister to needs to know that we care about him or her personally, and that we understand that, as individuals, needs vary. Not only must we do this as ministers, but it is important that we help our parishioners do the same.
We want to help people understand that we all are part of the Church family. Ideally, our ties should be greater than those we would have with a coworker or a neighbor. We should treat each other as family and learn all we can about one another. The Church should be a community where people recognize and acknowledge one another, call each other by name, and notice when someone is absent. When surveyed in a 2018 study , young adults who are disaffiliated with the Catholic Church expressed doubt that anyone noticed that they left, feeling that no one really knew them personally enough to actually miss them. It is important that people in the church feel that someone is putting in the effort to know them. That “someone” is not only the parish staff, but each person who makes up our parishes.
These individuals are at the center of our mission. When we take time to know the individuals we are ministering to, we will better understand their challenges, needs and interests; we will become better ministers. As we value the different gifts and needs of each person, the community will flourish, and people will want to give back to the community that invested in them.
What’s one way you start to really know those you’re ministering to? Tell us about it in the Encounter Grow Witness online community !