Easter is a life-giving season. The optimism of springtime and the excitement of those newly-baptized, professed, and fully-initiated Catholics fill the air. In addition, we share the pews with more faithful worshipers for the celebration of Mass. In fact, Holy Week and Easter Sunday attendance often fills our spaces to the max; ironically, for some, this is not a good thing – but rather – a source of bother and frustration.
Sometimes we take this additional participation for granted. We expect it. We welcome it. We offer our best hospitality. However, the reality is that many of those additional Holy Week/Easter attendees are part of the 75% of Catholics who do not regularly participate in parish life. This should give all of us, as parish ministry professionals and leaders, cause to consider:
- Does my parish invite people to engage?
- Does my parish recognize and tap into people’s talents?
- Does my parish establish expectations for community-building missionary discipleship?
Interestingly, the data from organizations such as CARA, Gallup, Pew, and others seems to indicate that we do well at welcoming people to join with us for worship but we have much room for improvement when it comes to fostering membership engagement and inviting people to join as members of the parish community.
This is important because engagement is a better measure of parish sustainability than attendance. While regular Mass attendance lags at around 25% of Catholics, parish engagement is even lower at 4-10% of Catholics getting involved in ministry or activities beyond Mass. This is alarming! Bottom-line, people are not likely to get involved.
It’s Easter. We celebrate that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and brings us the opportunity for new life and life eternal. The Church is meant to be a people, a community of believers, who are living the way of Christ daily. Bottom-line, if we take this seriously, then we are in the people business.
Engagement is a simple concept. It starts with identifying and responding to people’s needs. Amidst this activity it is essential to invite people to a deeper relationship with Jesus through the Church. Inviting people to become members is more than signing them up. Community requires us to identify people’s talents and to encourage and make room for people to use them within the parish. Why? Because sharing talents draws the Body of Christ together. We witness this throughout the early-Church’s experience of the Resurrection and communal life (cf. Post-Resurrection New Testament).
Membership engagement has benefits. Studies have proven that people will have a greater sense of ownership, empowerment, and evangelizing spirit when they are engaged in parish life. In fact, they are far more likely to speak about their experience and their parish – and, to invite others to join!