None of us want our parishes to be a place that’s not welcoming, that’s not hospitable to the outsider, visitor, guest, or occasional-attender. The question is how? What to do? What can I as just one individual do to welcome someone at Mass?
Tips for Welcoming
When you see someone that you think might be a visitor, don’t say “are you new?” (some people don’t want to stand out as different/new), instead make it about your own perspective, “I don’t think we’ve met before, my name is…”
Do have conversation with those who might be guests, visitors, or less-frequent attenders…just about every church has programs, music, and things to do. It’s personal connection that leads to belonging.
When conversing, don’t ask or presume specific family relationships (i.e. spouse, marital status, children) through your language. Making the wrong guess or assumption can cause a person to feel like they don’t fit in. Instead, let them share and then you know it’s a comfortable topic for them.
Don’t interrogate–i.e. asking what religion they are, what church they came from, etc. Focus on open-ended conversation that allows them to share their unique experiences and personality, rather than information. (Some examples of conversation “ripening” phrases).
At the end of a conversation, offer the person a pathway for a next step. This could mean showing them a welcome card, or a safer option a person is more likely to say “yes” to, simply offer your own contact information (i.e. email, phone #, whatever you prefer). This puts the ball clearly in their court and shows that you respect and trust their choice to follow up and get to know you more, versus giving their contact information to a total stranger at a new church. You’ve taken the first step in friendship, without being pushy.
Affirm parents. Parents are naturally self-conscious about having children at church events or worship. Simply affirm. Don’t offer praise that could be taken as an insult, i.e. “those kids were rough during Mass, but you did a great job.” A “thanks for being here, I love seeing children at Mass” cannot be misinterpreted.
In summary, keep your eyes open! Ask the Holy Spirit to point you to a conversation. People will remember, “that was the church where a stranger took an interest in me, for who I am…not who they hoped I’d be or how I could get involved in their church…simply because we connected as people.”