In this post, I’m going to describe a simple, easy-peasy way to dramatically increase the number of people you have in your RCIA process. But first, we have to do a little math.
You probably know that the fastest growing religious group in the United States is the “nones.” The Pew research group regularly asks people what church they belonged to, and the answer they get the most is “none.” (I don’t know if that’s true in Canada and other English-speaking countries, but my guess is that it is.)
16 million seekers a week
What is important to understand, however, is just because these folks don’t have a church, doesn’t mean they don’t go to church. One-third of the “nones” say they would join a church if they found the right one. So, if Pew is right, about 16 percent of the U.S. population has no religious affiliation. Of those, one-third—about 16 million people—are looking for a church on any given Sunday.
Try translating this to your city. If you live in a city of 100,000 people, one-third of 16 percent of them—about 5,333 people—are diving around town, checking out churches on Sunday. If Catholic parishes make up 20 percent of the churches in your city, that could mean about 20 percent—1,066—of the seekers in your city will be in a Catholic pew next Sunday. If there are 10 parishes in your city, you will potentially have more than 100 seekers visiting you this coming Sunday.
Okay, maybe that’s not possible. It can’t be 100, right? What if the number is only half of that? What if it’s only 50? Still outlandish? What if it is only ten? Ten people in your parish next Sunday looking for a church home? The point is, it’s not zero. Ten people, each week, is over 500 seekers a year visiting your parish hoping that something clicks.
RCIA teams ask us all the time how they can get more people into their initiation process. Sometimes the most obvious answer is just too obvious to notice. Here is the big takeaway:
To get more people into your RCIA process, say hello to the strangers at Mass every Sunday.
Learn from salespeople
Think of your parish in the same way a car dealer thinks of his showroom. If a stranger walks in the front door and starts looking at a car, she probably wants to buy a car. If a stranger walks into your church and starts looking at Catholics, she probably wants to be a Catholic. Or at the very least, she’d like to meet a couple of Catholics and learn a little more about Catholics.
What would happen to the car dealer who assumed that if the stranger really wanted to buy a car, she’d walk over to the office, knock on the door, and say, “I’d really like to buy a car. How do I do that?”
And yet, that is exactly what many of our parishes expect the seekers who come to Mass on Sunday to do. The results are predictable. The number one reason seekers do not return to a church they are trying out is because no one talked to them.
Look for young adults
Okay, one more statistic, and then I won’t make you do anymore math for a while, I promise. Remember I said that 16 percent of the U.S. population make up the “nones”? Well, if you only consider young adults, 18-29-year-olds, the percentage shoots up to 24 percent. If you know four young adults, one of them is a “none.” So if you see a young adult at Mass whom you do not recognize, I can almost guarantee you that he or she is looking for a church home.
That young person is sitting there, waiting for someone to cover over and “sell the car.” If you want to completely transform your catechumenate and your parish, next Sunday, go find a young adult you don’t know. Put on your best smile, stick out your hand, and say, “Hi. I don’t think we’ve met. Are you new to our parish?”
What do you think?
How many strangers do you think come to your parish every Sunday? Who talks to them? What “next step” do you have to offer them? Please share your comments below.
“Woman With A Sad Expression On A Dramatic Background” by Sira Anamwong | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
7 thoughts on “Evangelizing the “nones”—an easy RCIA challenge”
I can’t tell you how RIGHT you are! One thing I learned as a Pastoral Associate for the past 7 years (just retired in August) is that every single time I welcomed someone I did not recognize, fruit was born from the welcome! New parishioners, new volunteers, convalidation or marriage, baptism of babies, RCIA folks- it was always beneficial to the parish and to the person.
This really hit home when my husband and I attended a Catholic Church down the street from our new home. I had to seek out a staff member to get some information about the parish (Pastor is on vacation for a month). When I asked about the RCIA process, intending to see if I could volunteer, she told me, “at this parish people don’t come here to become Catholic- they come here to stay Catholic.”. She also told me that the pastor offered private conversion classes if someone wanted to join the Church because it was so rare! She told me that the other two local ‘liberal’ parishes offered ‘stuff like that’. This parish may not be the new home for us….I guess I’ll have to check out the other two parishes. I thought that spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ was the first mission of the Church. Perhaps a visit with the pastor will clarify things, but I was very much taken aback.
Hi Michele. Thanks for sharing. It is sometimes incredible the lengths we will go to not evangelize. Congratulations on your retirement!
It is true that most of the time meeting new people, they are either visiting and have a home parish, or looking. Sometimes people don’t take the ministry of ushers/greeters too seriously- they are invaluable. It is easy to get into a rut and speak only to people we know. Really appreciate your column- thanks.
Wow, Peggy, you are so right about getting into the rut of only talking to people we know. I fall into that myself sometimes. Thanks for your thoughts.
I agree wholeheartedly with Peggy. Our parish is very small (a little over six hundred registered parishioners) and yet we have large numbers coming into our parish (15 adults this year and 8 children). Our parish is very welcoming and that is what I hear from all of the people I interview for the RCIA. We introduce ourselves to people around us before each Mass and our greeter/ushers are great at meeting everyone at the outside door of our vestibule. They personally greet each person when they come up the steps to the doors, even in bad weather. People want to feel welcome and needed before they will commit to joining a church. Hats off to our parishioners for the great job they do.
That sounds terrific Paul! It sounds like your parish is doing a really great job. Thanks for sharing.
Our parish priest asks if we have any visitors at the end of each Sunday Mass; he asks their names, where they are from, and why they are in the area.
Lectors then invite the visitors to free coffee and donuts. Parishioners follow up with introductions.