Hospitality Matters 


Are we doing enough to appropriately welcome back our missing brothers and sisters to the Church?

When the Archdiocese of St. Louis launched the Catholics Come Home Campaign over 10 years ago - people came back. These beautiful stories of hope inspired people to explore the faith and seek out what was missing in their lives. But, sadly, we also know from our Mass attendance statistics that many of these people eventually walked back out the door. While some efforts were made to retain them, ultimately many parishes were not prepared to walk with people as they returned to the Church. 

Paragraph 1072 of the Catechism says this:

“The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church": it must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity.”

How do we precede the liturgy with “evangelization, faith, and conversion”, and what does that have to do with hospitality?

Analyzing concepts from organizations that do hospitality well might give us some insight - even if they aren’t explicitly Catholic. What do we have to learn from Disney, Chick-Fil-A, or even protestant churches? These organizations have devoted incredible amounts of time, money, and energy to helping making people feel welcome. 

And, understandably, there may be some objections - namely that what we offer isn't simply a product, it’s so much more! Doesn’t all the “fluff” that we can surround the “Sunday experience” with cheapen the liturgy?

Without altering the liturgical celebration at all, we can do a lot to improve people's experiences related to visiting our parishes. And it’s not fluff at all. The book “The Come Back Effect” tackles exactly this question:

"This can be an uncomfortable concept for many modern churches. Aren’t feelings bad? Don’t they lie? Yes, they do lie. That’s the point. A business, for instance, wants a product that the customer will love. However, even if the product is perfect, the experience of the store, or the shipping, or the ordering process can all ruin the product --even though they have very little to do with the actual product. Thus, great customer service for a business removes negative emotions from the periphery of their product."

"As a church, though, we want to remove the negative emotions that might get in the way of ministry. We aren’t trying to manipulate some happy feeling in the hopes someone will come back to our ministry. We’re trying to care enough for our guests to replace their negative emotions so real ministry can happen.”

If the Eucharist is essential for evangelization - and we know it is - then we must try to remove any obstacles people might encounter that prevent them from receiving the graces of the Sacrament.

So, practically speaking - what do we do? Below are a few thoughts quick thoughts to get us started:

1. Hospitality is everyone’s job.

It cannot only be the work of a committee, a greeter, or an usher. We have to develop an evangelization worldview in our parishes where everyone in the pews knows that it’s their job to welcome people! I once went to an Easter egg hunt at a Baptist church where it seemed like every member of the congregation was volunteering and welcoming me. They knew the event was for outreach to the community - not for their own personal benefit.

2. Think like an outsider

We show up week in and week out to our parishes and we generally know what to expect. Can you put yourselves in the shoes of someone who has never been? Do we have explainers or liturgy guides available? Do we welcome guests during the announcements? Do we have people we can connect them with?

3. Discipleship Pathways

As someone comes to our church with questions, do we have individuals and/or programs who are prepared to walk with them as they explore the faith. Yes, I know RCIA classes form each year, but seekers coming back to the faith may not be prepared for that level of commitment - or they may show up after classes have started. Are your faith formation programs only for committed disciples or do we have a low barrier of entry opportunities to connect them to events and members of our community who have evangelical zeal? Do we offer this every week or only occasionally?

While we certainly don't have all the answers, the Archdiocese of St. Louis is working on developing new programs and paradigms related to Hospitality to help remove any obstacles that may prevent someone from experiencing the grace and beauty of the Liturgy. Let us know what you’ve seen work or what resources you need from us at [email protected]!



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