What No One Considers About Parish Evangelization (Guest post by Marc Cardaronella)

Marc Cardaronella is the catechetical blogger I wish I could be. His writing is always relevant, snappy, and finely crafted. In a word, it’s must-read material for catechists and I’m thankful for his guest post today.

On the Tuesday after the Easter Vigil, our whole RCIA entourage gets together for a kind of after party to celebrate and discuss what happened at the Vigil.

chicken-wingsWe get a lot of food (Buffalo Wild Wings are the main course) and desserts and reflect on the year. I ask the neophytes to tell me their impressions of the process, particularly how they felt about it before they came, then during, and now after.

I was really struck this year by a comment from one young lady who had no Christian background at all before she came to the RCIA.

She said:

“I didn’t really want to come. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through with this. But you said to just come and check it out. No pressure. If I didn’t like, I could quit anytime. So, I came to the first meeting and everyone was so friendly and inviting. There was lots of great food and it was so welcoming, I felt like it was family. Then I started learning and I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to miss a single week. Now I’m so glad I did this. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I loved hearing this because that is exactly the effect I hope for at that first meeting. The whole RCIA team is primed to be as welcoming as possible in order to make this happen.

I was at a meeting with parish leaders the other night talking about evangelization. Whenever I have conversations like this, it always turns to having the great speakers, fancy venues, and great music. Large group stuff.

That’s good if you can afford it. However, I’d say probably 90% of evangelization is hospitality. At least in the beginning.

Hospitality communicates to others that they have value, that they are welcome. Before you can deliver the saving message of Jesus Christ, you have to establish a connection on a human level. It’s like the human connection becomes, in a sense, a bridge or a conduit on which the divine message can travel.

Hospitality builds relationship and then, from relationship you can build trust. Trust gives you the right to be heard. Once you have that, you can deliver your message and know your audience is listening.

If you don’t do the crucial groundwork of earning the right to be heard, you are just a talking head, no different from any other salesman trying to get them to buy something they don’t want. Earn that trust, and you automatically speak from a place of regard. That’s why hospitality is so critical in evangelization.

There’s many different ways hospitality can play a vital role in parish evangelization. Consider the often beleaguered parish secretary. She’s the first person people have contact with at the parish. She’s the first to answer all the phone calls, the first to greet all the visitors at the parish office, and probably the one to manage all the pastor’s appointments.

Arguably, the parish secretary is the most important person in the parish with regard to evangelization. How often does careful thought go into who is hired for this position? More often than not, she’s just the person who was available…and she’s grumpy.

welcomeAnd what about the parish office itself? Is it inviting? Is it fashionably decorated and furnished with comfortable chairs? Does it say, “We have a comfortable place for you because we value you being here.”

Hospitality is probably 90% of initial evangelization, but it’s not everything. You have to proclaim the gospel too. Once people are open to your message, you have the opportunity to tell them why it’s awesome to be in union with Jesus Christ in and through the Catholic Church.

I think if parishes became more intentional about hospitality, it would pay huge dividends in drawing new members to the Church, and making existing parishioners feel more a part of the parish family.

What are your thoughts about hospitality and evangelization? Do you have a story where it really worked? Or, maybe a story where a lack of hospitality went really wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Marc Cardaronella is a parish catechetical leader in Champaign, Illinois, with a passion for sharing the faith with others. He is also a father, writer, and a blue belt in Gracie Jiu-jitsu. He blogs about catechesis and evangelization at www.MarcCardaronella.com.