Come Thou Long Expected Parishioners: Week 1
For the next four weeks, we'll be taking a look at how you can prepare your church for one of the best opportunities you have during the year to evangelize and attract new parishioners: Christmas. Using the themes of the four weeks of Advent as our guide (hope, faith, joy, and peace), I'll give you a few tasks to do each week on how to best prepare for this great evangelization opportunity.
Week 1: Hope
Does your church reflect hope? Think about the ancient Israelites, how they waited for almost 4,000 years for God to bring them the Messiah. And yet, for many, their hope never wavered. Think of people like Anna and Simeon, who hoped in God's promise in Genesis 3:15 so sincerely that they awaited the presence of His Son in the temple every day. Today, it seems like that kind of hope has long been buried under piles of stress, work, competition, and technology that constantly remind us we aren't rich enough, strong enough, pretty enough, or even spiritual enough. Every day, we hear of a new natural or violent tragedy that leaves us feeling broken, and even when we turn to the Church for comfort, we find division and scandals that leave us feeling confused, neglected, and hopeless. Sometimes we forget that we too are still awaiting the Messiah, this time in His Second Coming. Advent and Christmas are a good time to remind us of that and fill our lives with hope that we have not been forgotten and that we too must trust that God will once again keep His Word, just as He did almost 2,000 years ago with the birth of a little baby. There is reason to hope this Christmas, despite what the world may be telling you. Many, many of the people who walk through your church's doors on Christmas Day are going to be facing hardships in their lives. Whether financial, personal, relational, or social, they are also probably affecting that person's spirituality as well. How will your church remind them of the hope that is found only in Jesus? To do this week:
This week, make an effort to be optimistic about your attendance for this year. Make a plan for parking in case of packed Masses. Order extra hosts to have on hand. Be like the farmer who prepared for rain, and God will bless your hope abundantly.
Related to hope, this is the week to ask around the office to restock and reprint pamphlets about ministries and groups for people to join. Even better, consider making a list of ministries (with descriptions, not just names!) that you can include in your bulletin the week of Christmas.
Begin your liturgical game plan. If you haven't already, finalize your liturgical schedule as well as the priests and liturgical ministers assigned to each Mass. Don't forget to also plan for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (and start getting extra sleep now to prepare for the four-day marathon!).
Begin practices for any children's plays or choirs that may be performing for Christmas, and encourage your parishioners to volunteer and find hope in the next generation of Catholics! While you're at it, ask the youth group leader if the teens of the parish would like to assist at Christmas as greeters, parking directors, or even just people to sit with those who come to Christmas Masses alone.
Make plans for reaching out to the homebound and sick during Christmas. Whether it is sending one of the priests to each person or offering free rides to and from Mass on Christmas, encourage the parish community to get involved and offer some hope for those who may be lonely in your parish community this season.
Most likely, your parish's annual Giving Tree or service outreach is getting started this week. Consider adding a spiritual element to these drives this year; see if someone in your parish would be willing to donate a Bible for each family who will be receiving aid from your parish this year, to offer them hope not just financially, but also spiritually.
Send a reminder of hope. If you are mailing out Christmas schedules to your parishioners, this is the week to do that. Make sure to hang your Christmas Mass schedule posters near the church, and send copies to the local newspaper to print.
To pray about this week: