How to Create a Sense of Community in Your Parish
How would you describe a parish with a strong sense of community? You might say it’s warm and welcoming. It’s a place where people care for you and make you feel like you belong. It’s a place where there is fellowship and laughter, where the people feel like family.
Parishes, with their many gifts, graces and sacraments—with Jesus Himself right at the center—ought to be great at this. Some are, but many are not. I don’t have room to consider why, but I say that you don’t have to wait for the right people to get their act together before things can improve.
Here are four ways you can build community in your parish.
Our communion with God establishes our communion with one another. Since we commune with God through prayer, as a community prays together, its sense of community increases.
The Mass is a powerful source of communion, but we can’t rest on our laurels. Consider other ways to prioritize community through prayer. Make the Stations of the Cross prayer guides available all year long, not just during Lent. Keep the church doors unlocked more often so people can pray at odd hours. Have prayer teams available after Mass so that anyone who needs prayer has someone to talk to. Most importantly, surround all your decisions as a parish in prayer. Imagine how effective our ministries would be if we prayed about them first!
The first and only interaction many people have with your parish is on Sunday. So, how parishioners greet visitors is very important. While you might train ushers in the art of community-building, it can all be undone by one negative interaction with a parishioner.
So, smile. Be joyful and friendly. Create a “Welcome Table” with helpful people who address questions and concerns. Secretaries, smile when you answer the phone!
Smile instead of grumbling. Is a noisy family sitting in front of you? Smile at them. Has a parent climbed over you three times to take a child to the bathroom? Smile at them in a way that says, “I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad you’re here, too.” If that gladness doesn’t come readily, pray for it. “Jesus, remind me how blessed I am and make me a source of blessing for others.”
3. MAKE FRIENDS
Sometimes the scariest place to be is the place where you don’t know anyone. What can we do to not only be friendly but actually make friends? The next time you’re at the church, ask yourself, “How well do I know these people?” The person sitting next to you, do you know his name? Do you know where he’s from and what he does for a living? Do you know how long he’s been a parishioner or if he’s even Catholic? If you don’t, find out!
Take charge of your own friend-making. If no one reaches out to you, reach out to them! Befriend the people who are new or different. As they say in Cursillo, “Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Jesus!”
4. JOURNEY TOGETHER
Once you’ve made friends, engage in intentional friendship. Care about their physical and spiritual wellbeing. That’s what accompaniment is, and it’s vital to creating any real sense of community. Be patient with people. Everyone’s at a different place in their journey of faith. Listen to them. Talk honestly about your relationship with Jesus, and give them space to talk about their relationship, too.
Mentor others and be mentored yourself. No one’s meant to travel the road to heaven alone. Road trips are always better with friends, and yes, even with family.
Nicholas Hardesty is the associate director of Adult Evangelization and RCIA for the Center for the New Evangelization. | [email protected]
This article appeared in the December 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.