November 5, 2018
A few times a year our parishes are filled with special guests. For whatever reason, these people who don’t normally darken our doors feel compelled to come to the house of God on holy days. They are often referred to as Christmas and Easter Only Catholics, or CEO’s. Some people are annoyed by these bi-annual visitors as they take the best parking, clog up the narthex and to make matters worse, some even sit in OUR spot in the pew! However, I believe that these people are a gift from God. For all of the challenges we face with evangelization in the modern era, it’s a miracle that a few times a year people actually choose to come to us! And while some may judge them as uncommitted, I see this as an opportunity to show them why they would be blessed to come every week. Here are a few ideas for creating an experience that exceeds expectations and just might inspire them to come back again before Easter!
1) Hospitality Starts Online – It’s very likely that people will visit your website before they visit your parish. Where does your parish show up on a google search for Catholic churches in your city? Is the information on Google Maps correct? Is your website welcoming and easy to navigate, clearly providing information for Christmas mass times and location information? You might consider changing your landing page just for the month of December. To get lots of great ideas for your website and social media, watch our Communications & Technology Webinar: COMMUNICATIONS WEBINAR
2) Cast a Vision for Welcoming – The foundation for a welcoming parish starts in the pulpit. Some pastors and deacons begin casting a vision for hospitality during Advent. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, consider reminding your people that visitors are coming and share a vision for how they can help make everyone feel like there is “room at the inn”. You might encourage them to give up their precious aisle seats and park further away, leaving the best spots for our honored guests. Sure, a few Scrooges will scoff, but you might be surprised that many will embrace the opportunity. One thing is certain, your parish will not have a vision for an extraordinary welcome if they are not encouraged and invited to join.
3) Remember, The First 10 Minutes Matter – Researchers report that most visitors determine if they will return to your parish within the first 10 minutes of their visit. Think about what they will experience during that time. Start with signage: from the parking lot to the entrance of the church, is it clear and easy to navigate? You might consider adding more greeters along the path, or even parking lot “ushers” to reduce stress and help people easily find a spot. Consider creating a welcome/info booth just for Christmas, so visitors can easily get help or more information about your parish. Ushers should be cheerful and helpful, looking for people who are new and making them feel welcomed as an honored guest.
4) Involve the Parish and Be Creative – Invite others to join you in imagining ways to create an experience that exceeds peoples expectations. Some parishes have had carolers in the courtyard, or places speakers with Christmas music in the parking lot. Greeters wearing Santa Claus hats or reindeer antlers add a festive flair. Invite ministries to create and plan their own ideas, like serving hot cider or coca in the courtyard or providing candy canes and coloring books for kids. Free family Christmas photos in front of a holiday background are always a hit. There are lots of fun possibilities when you invite the whole parish to join in.
5) Invite Visitors Back to Something Other Than Mass – Plan events for January that might specifically meet the needs of CEO’s. Perhaps a budgeting workshop with tips for dealing with holiday debt, or healthy eating and exercise classes to help with those new years resolutions. Parenting groups or classes are popular. For something more spiritually minded, consider a special Alpha class that starts mid January. If you’re not familiar with Alpha, it’s a very welcoming program for exploring spiritual matters and has proven to be very successful in recent years. Learn more at AlphaUSA.org.
With a little planning and spreading the vision, this could be the best Christmas ever at your parish! Also, consider it a great opportunity to build teams that create an ongoing extraordinary hospitality experience every week. You might just be surprised how that welcoming feeling continues on into the new year.
For more ideas, and some great training for your teams, check out our Extraordinary Hospitality Webinar from last month. You can stream the video and download a worksheet for your team to process the information by clicking here: EXTRAORDINARY HOSPITALITY WEBINAR