Father Hess from Sacred Heart Church recently shared the following article with his pastoral staff. Deanna Lane, youth ministry director, said, “A unique approach but one that sounds like it would be effective for reaching out to new and returning members.” Bill Klein is a 35 year marketing veteran for a Fortune 500 company in Minnesota. What I like about this article is:
- that it comes from someone who is not a staff person or pastor for the parish,
- it is from someone who has credible experience in private sector marketing, and
- it provides a pathway to begin so the pastoral team doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel.
“Because I am the fire warden for our rural Minnesota township, the sight of an unfamiliar vehicle coming down our driveway isn’t unusual. It’s likely another neighbor needing a permit from me to burn a pile of brush. But when an entire family, dressed in their Sunday best, jumps out of the car and hustles up to our front porch I know they’re not looking for a burning permit. They’re looking to save my soul.
I’ve often thought we Catholics could take a lesson from the Jehovah Witnesses on evangelism. As a 35-year marketing veteran for a Fortune 100 corporation, I am always impressed by the Witnesses’ preparation, missionary zeal and leave-behind collateral material. It’s their scatter gun approach to marketing I’d change. I’m a cradle Catholic and long-time member of St. Michael’s parish in Stillwater, Minnesota, so I hardly represent a qualified prospect for the Witnesses. Their well-intended words are wasted on me. So I’d narrow their target market with a tighter focus on high potential candidates.
Sadly, our Church doesn’t have to look far for high-potential prospects to join us, or more succinctly, rejoin us, in the practice of our faith. According to William D’Antonio, Catholic University Sociologist and co-author of Statistical Studies of American Catholics, just 33% of baptized Catholics attended Mass in 2005. And that number has likely slipped more in the last six years. This means that two out of three of our parish neighbors can be considered high potential prospects for win back. A fertile field, indeed, for evangelism.
How to Begin
Form a parish growth team. Six to ten members would be plenty. They should be carefully recruited based on personality type (extrovert is good). The ideal growth team member is a person for whom their Catholic faith is a source of joy. And it shows. We want people who are comfortable asking friends, neighbors and strangers to quit being vacationing Catholics and rejoin our faith community.
Identify the prospects. Begin by having the pastor tell the congregation about the growth team. Ask everyone’s help in identifying neighbors who are not currently practicing the faith. Pass out prospect ID cards. Parish members can fill in names anonymously. Build a PC-based prospect data base.
Use affinity marketing when assigning the prospect cards to growth team members. Who bowls with this prospect? Coached their children on a sports team? Works with them at the same company? Lives on the same street? If no growth team member has a connection with the prospect find someone who does. And invite them along on the first contact. Keep updated information in the data base. When did we meet? Who was there? What was said? What was the prospect’s reaction? Listening skills are important. What are the barriers to this person returning to the parish? What should be done next?
Keep the contact low-key and non-threatening. Don’t meet in the prospect’s home. Invading private space can be threatening. Meet in a coffee shop.
Plan what you are going to say. Roll play with a growth team member before the contact. What can we say to put our prospect at ease? We’re after a quiet conversation about a need in the parish. For openers, identify something for the prospect to do at the parish. What are they passionate about? Music? Reading? Cooking? Gardening? Then match the prospect’s interests with a parish ministry activity. Say something like this, “Our pastor wants the parish to plant a huge vegetable garden next spring and grow food for the needy. You’re an expert gardener. Would you help us plan it?” Everyone likes it when people ask for their advice.
Give the growth team a permanent role in the parish mission. This is not a quick fix plan. Evangelism takes time, patience and persistence.
Coming back to the practice of the Catholic faith is a sensitive subject for the target prospects. They know they have, as the 17th –century French philosopher Blaise Pascal describes it, a God-shaped hole in their lives. We don’t need to remind them. The Jehovah Witness tact of “we’re here to save your soul” sounds like a threat. “We need your help,” is a lot more comfortable invitation, hopefully followed by immersion, with us, in a fun and meaningful Church ministry. Then God’s grace and the welcoming love for one another that is the hallmark of our parish communities, will begin to work its soul-saving magic.”
This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue of MINISTRY & LITURGY magazine, a journal providing formation, encouragement, and practical resources to people in parish ministries. For more information about MINISTRY & LITURGY, visit www.ministryandliturgy.com.
For an opportunity to learn more about practical evangelization within the parish, sign-up for the Workshop with Father Frank DeSiano, the nation’s foremost expert on parish evangelization outreach. The flyer is attached. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday (invite a friend too).