I've been attending Mass sitting on a folding chair for the past two months, and I couldn't be more grateful.
If you've been following us for a while, you already know how deeply I love my parish. (If not, read this first.)
Since writing that last blog post, I've only come to love our parish more. I can't say I'm super active at the moment (and frankly, that's kind of good for me, because once I get active, I will most likely become OVERactive. And actually just sitting in the pews and going to Mass has been doing wonders for my soul). But getting to wave to our "friends" (most of whose names I don't know) in the pews each week and dipping our toes into church life has already made us feel like longtime members of this incredible community.
About nine months ago, my husband and I started looking at buying a home in the area where we were renting. Where we were living at that time was about twenty minutes from the parish, and my main criteria in house hunting was that we had to be closer to our church, even though that meant we would be further away from my job. THAT's how much this place means to me, that I'd rather drive twenty minutes extra each way to work every day than be so far away from the church. Now, it's easy for me to swing by Adoration on the way home from work or join a church ministry when I'm ready.
Of course, soon after moving in, I realized that we were still actually going to the parish that was furthest from our house, as the two other parishes in our cluster are actually closer. 🤷♀️
Which brings us to this summer. We are having extensive work done on our parish thanks to the recent Archdiocesan Renew and Rebuild campaign, and thus, our Masses for the summer are taking place in the school cafeteria.
The air conditioners are a bit noisy. The metal folding chairs aren't exactly what one would deem comfortable. There's not enough space to kneel.
And yet I can't imagine going to another closer and more comfortable parish for the next few months, because I just love this one so much.
THAT type of devotion is what you want from your audience, whether you're a parish, school, or Catholic organization. I am so devoted to this place that I am more than willing to undergo a few discomforts to continue to receive the spiritual nourishment I crave (and receive) at this place.
So how has my parish managed to do this? A few key things we can learn:
Welcome is everything. Again, if you've been following us for a while, you know how important we think welcome ministries or welcome campaigns are for any Catholic organization, especially parishes. While my parish doesn't have a formalized welcome campaign per se, they do have greeters at every conceivable door to the church, which really makes a big difference. I don't have to know the "bulletin lady's" name for her to make an impact on me. In fact, one of the first things I noticed when we arrived at the parish for the first time was one particular greeter's friendliness and it stuck with me as we evaluated our options. Now imagine if my husband and I were part of an "unchurched" population: that greeting alone could have made or broke our relationship with God. Suddenly, welcoming your parishioners or clients becomes a lot more important when you look at it that way.
They have a strong brand identity that's easy to be loyal to. My parish is unlike any other I've ever been to. The engagement rate of parishioners is through the roof of any other parish I've ever encountered and the giving rate seems to match that enthusiasm. There's a vibrant young adult ministry and everyone there seems to just genuinely enjoy being Catholic and actually live out their faith. A lot of this is due to the incredible pastor and priests we have, but it also just seems to be a gathering place of people who are genuinely Catholic. And while I'm sure that the other parishes in our area also have a large number of the faithful, the sheer number of engaged parishioners at my parish is what truly draws me in and makes me feel at home. And, if you read that previous post, that reputation had been apparent to me long before I was a parishioner there. So while I don't know if it's a conscious decision on the parish's part, I was attracted to that parish because I identified with that culture. Other parishes are known for their Latin Mass or their youth group or their connection to a religious order, and those are all great tactics to build brand loyalty. Don't be afraid to stand out a bit from the pack!
Finally, my parish offers plenty of opportunities for me to fall in love with both the parish AND Jesus. That may seem like a natural result of being a Catholic church, but faith and fun are mixed into everything. There's a vibrant school community and 12 hours of Adoration every day. There's a parish picnic and an active Alpha program. My parish isn't promoting itself: It's promoting Jesus. And as I fall more in love with Jesus, I'm falling more in love with this community that's helping me better reach Him. If you want to market yourself Catholically, then focus on marketing Jesus and let Him do the rest. People will fall in love with you because of Who you help them fall in love with.
I can't say that I'll be disappointed to go back to Mass in a regular church soon. But if this parish can make me stay despite some inconveniences, then you know I won't be going anywhere no matter how long this construction takes.
And THAT, my friends, is Catholic brand loyalty.