When someone becomes a parishioner at a church, it can be a little intimidating to meet people and find a place in the community. To help make people feel more at home in the parish, the Encounter Ministry was started.
“We used to just have parishioners fill out a form online and we would reach out to welcome them, but this process didn’t give us the opportunity to get to know them,” says Tammy Stewart, the Director of Evangelization, Outreach, and Campus Ministry. “We didn’t have a process in place to get the new parishioners acclimated into the parish either. Now we have them fill out an inquiry form and then we set up a time to meet, preferably face to face. The first question I ask them is why they chose St. Jude and that usually opens up some great conversation in getting to know them.”
Tammy has found this meeting to be very helpful for getting to know new parishioners.
“The stories that I hear in our one-on-one intakes help me to connect the parishioners with others in the parish,” Tammy says. “I can share support for different challenges they may be facing or connect them with people or ministries that they may be interested in. Our new parishioners feel connected more quickly and they are willing to share of themselves sooner than they would have otherwise.”
After meeting with Tammy, someone from the Encounter Team reaches out to the new parishioners to give them a welcome gift and make more connections. During this process, new parishioners are offered a tour of the church. After this, new parishioners are sent a survey to ask about their experiences with the Encounter Ministry. They are also invited to take a spiritual gifts assessment and invited to join a small group within the parish.
“The spiritual gifts assessment is a wonderful tool to help identify the gifts God has given you,” Tammy says. “It is exciting to realize that we have these gifts that God has intentionally given us. They give us a greater sense of purpose and we can help direct them into ministries or groups where they can utilize their gifts and talents. God has made each of us unique and we all have a special role to play in His Kingdom. This assessment can help us find our place here.”
The invite to be a part of a small group within the parish can help newcomers find a place here more quickly. In a big parish, it can be easy to feel invisible. We have many groups and ministries and it can be difficult for a new person to get involved. The small groups help make a large parish into small “churches” of people who meet regularly. They are catechetical social groups and a way to meet people who have common interests. Many of the existing small groups at the parish have been together for decades. They have been through many seasons of life together, celebrating, grieving, and supporting each other.
The last part of the Encounter Ministry is the quarterly New Parishioner Meet and Greet. All new parishioners are invited to come to a breakfast where they can meet other new parishioners as well as the members of the Encounter Team. This is another opportunity for connection to others in the parish where new parishioners can meet others and learn more about what opportunities and support are available at the parish.
“Last year, we had over 100 newly registered parishioners,” Tammy says. “I would say that about half of them went through the Encounter Ministry process. Those that filled out the survey gave us great feedback and said that it was a great experience that welcomed them fully into the parish.”
For those who are newer to the parish but may not have taken advantage of this ministry, it isn’t too late. Anyone who considers themselves “new” to the parish is encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to get connected to the parish. Those who may have participated in parts of this process and want to be a part of the rest of it are welcome to contact Tammy to continue the welcoming process.
“We currently have six members on our team,” Tammy says. “We really could use more to help welcome our new parishioners. We would love to have more members from all walks of life to come and help connect with people. The gift of hospitality in a large parish like ours is a vital part of making people feel at home here and we need more people who are willing to join us in this mission.”
New parishioners or anyone interested in joining the team may contact Tammy Stewart at email@example.com or call the parish office at 317-786-4371.