When I talk to life & justice leaders in the diocese and ask them what challenges they face, I hear some of the similar themes over and over: It’s hard to get new people involved. Everyone is so busy. I feel like I’m the lone voice at my parish.
So this past Saturday, when about 80 respect life leaders from 50 parishes and schools from around the Diocese of Camden gathered for the day, I asked them to share their experiences of successful ministry events or programs of any sort. What characteristics contribute to good ministry in general? I thought if we came up with some must-have ministry traits, we could apply them to respect life initiatives.
Here’s a photo slideshow of the day:
The collective wisdom of the group came up with some great characteristics. Here are 10.
- Get multiple ministries involved. Instead of one parish ministry sponsoring an event in isolation, why not collaborate? Multiple leaders working together can help reach various constituencies and bring all sorts of people together. An example: sandwich-making night at your parish for a local soup kitchen including participation bu Confirmation prep classes, high school youth ministry, Knights of Columbus, seniors group, Legion of Mary, etc.
- Develop relationships with your pastor and parish staff members. Support from your pastor and pastoral staff is essential. Ask to meet with your pastor; maybe take him out to lunch. Describe your hopes for the ministry you are working on, and ask him for examples of best practices of collaboration between pastoral staff and lay leaders.
- Empower leaders. If you’re leading a ministry, you should be looking and preparing for your replacement. Invite participants with leadership potential to partner with you on planning an event. Give them meaningful but not overwhelming responsibilities, and teach by your own example. If you’re working with students or young adults, invite select participants to take on peer leadership roles.
- “Hook on” to what’s already happening. What big gatherings are already happening at the parish, and how could you connect with those gatherings? For instance, during children’s faith formation times, invite parents to meet for conversation and prayer. (Refreshments included, of course.) Or, you could invite couples preparing for marriage or baptism to participate in a community service project with other couples.
- Interactivity is key. Even if you’re hosting a speaker event, build in time for Q&A and small-group discussion. This increases learning, helps people feel more engaged, and affirms that the ideas and experiences of the attendees are important and valuable.
- Prayer and opportunities for spiritual growth should be a part of any initiative. Any sort of educational or action-oriented event/program at a parish should include spiritual elements. These elements root activities in our faith, and remind us that our commitment to those who are vulnerable is not our idea, but God’s idea.
- The best way to generate turnout is personal invitation. There’s an old marketing adage that someone needs to hear about your product/event seven times before he or she gives it a try. Say you’re hosting a Silent No More speaker at your parish. Email blasts, bulletin blurbs, pulpit announcements, and social media posts can be helpful, but nothing can replace the phone call or face-to-face invitation. You could say something like: “We’re having this event coming up, and I think you’d really enjoy it because I know you [fill in the blank.] Would you be interested in coming with me?” If you have a team of leaders helping to plan the event, ask each of them to make eight or 10 personal invitations.
- Hospitality means paying attention to details. Refreshments or a meal make people feel welcome and provide a great chance for unstructured social interaction, which builds community. Keeping to the advertised time-frame is an essential sign of respect. Showing a spiritual movie, say? Maybe run a screening during a weekday afternoon AND a weeknight evening so people with different schedules can make it. And a comfortable, inviting space can make a huge difference.
- Provide take-home/follow-up resources. Having a prayer gathering for the unborn and their families? Provide attendees with a prayer card or copy of a short prayer service they could do at home. Having a guest speaker on, say, world hunger? Pass out information at the event about an upcoming food drive at the parish. Always be ready to answer the question, “What’s next?”
- Say “thank you.” Work with the parish youth minister and a team of volunteers on a spiritual adoption project? Send thank-you notes right afterward. This helps people feel appreciated and more likely to get involved again.
Click here for two printable resources for respect life ministries: a list of activity ideas and a comprehensive how-to guide.