Given the current situation of the COVID-19 crisis and all the uncertainty regarding the reopening of schools and businesses, it is easy to understand why people feel nervous about attending Mass or activities at their parish. As parish leaders, we may feel frustrated that parishioners are taking part in other “normal” activities, such as shopping or eating out, but have not come back to church.
How can we encourage and welcome people back to Mass who are still on the fence about attending? Even with the dispensation extended, we can still be reaching out and engaging parishioners. This may be a great time to revisit what you have been doing since May to see if anything needs to be updated, changed, or shared again. Consider these ideas:
Help your parish maintain the safety protocols prescribed by the Archdiocese. The safety procedures you have in place matter. People know the expectation and safety measures in place at the grocery store, restaurants, salons, etc. Make sure they know what you are doing at your parish to keep them safe (masks, social distancing, sanitizing, etc.).
- Remind people regularly what protocols you have in place. Make it so familiar that any parishioner could share it with someone.
- Evaluate what you have in place and determine if any additional measures are needed. Consider asking a parishioner who has safety concerns to evaluate your current plan.
- Consider visitors to your parish. Whether it is a special occasion like a baptism, wedding, funeral, or just someone visiting, would the safety measures you have in place be obvious and easy to follow?
People, especially families with young children, want to know what the expectations are for them if they go somewhere. This helps them know what environment they are walking into. Ways to do this:
- Send out emails and/or letters letting people know the basics: what times Masses will be held, where they will be celebrated, where to enter, how to register (if needed), and what they need to bring to attend Mass. Post this information on signs welcoming people into the building, in the bulletin, and in an easy to find space on your website. You can find some creative images to use here .
- Consider sharing how many spots you have available, on average, for the different Mass times. Someone may choose to attend the Vigil Mass, for example, if it has lower attendance.
- If you are offering additional gatherings or prayer opportunities, share those as well. People may feel comfortable coming to something smaller to get a lay of the land and build up their comfort level.
For some, seeing is believing. They want to know what Mass looks like, what people do when they receive communion, how much people are singing, or if the usual area they sit in is crowded. If possible:
- Consider moving the camera during the livestreamed Mass to show the pews at times.
Interview parishioners who have returned to Mass and had a positive experience. Share this in the bulletin, on your website, and on your social media channels. Questions to consider include:
- How was it different returning to Mass?
- What made you feel safe?
- What can parishioners do to make the transition back to Mass easier on everyone?
We cannot pretend to know why people have or have not returned to Mass yet. The easiest way to find out is to ask. Check in with parishioners who have not returned to public worship yet, not to make them feel judged, but to let them know they still matter and that you care.
- As a staff or with a group of volunteers, call and check in with families to see how they are doing. This could be one way to engage catechists with students and their families, for example. Ask if they have any needs or prayer requests. They may also share why they have not returned to Mass yet. Make sure your callers are prepared to answer questions regarding parish and Archdiocesan policies.
- Consider creating a survey asking what is keeping people from returning to Mass. If your parish is able to make changes, you can ask what they need to see in place to comfortably return.
- Have various ways for parishioners who have not yet returned to engage with the parish. This can be via your parish website or YouTube Channel, as well as using the bulletin and email communications. You can provide ideas for worshipping from home , prayer resources, and opportunities to grow in community and faith.
While times may feel uncertain, we still continue to share the certainty of God’s unending love for us. Taking some time to reflect on what is currently being done and to reach out to your parishioners can help them feel connected, cared for, and more open to the message you have to share. Whether our parishioners are joining us in person or engaging remotely, we want to help them draw closer to the Lord during this time.