Parish outreach extends beyond usual Catholic households

Appleton parish sends Christmas cards to all residents within ‘mission field’

APPLETON — Thanks to a resource provided by the Green Bay Diocese, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish may get a gift of filled pews this Christmas and into the New Year as well.

Last February, the diocese announced the completion of a “Parish Boundaries Project” for all its parishes. A list of all the households in each boundary was made available to each parish through a website called MissionInsite.com.

Willa Mueller, marketing and communications coordinator at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Appleton, holds one of the Christmas postcards the parish mailed to all residents within the parish’s boundaries. (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)

Fr. Don Zuleger, pastor, saw this as an opportunity to advance the mission of his parish, according to Deacon Gilbert Schmidt. He talked about the possibility of connecting not only with parishioners, said Deacon Schmidt, but non-Catholics within the parish boundaries. “It was brought up, maybe what we should do is send (cards) out to everyone in our boundaries, not just those who belong to Sacred Heart,” he said.

With the new data available, Willa Mueller, marketing and communications coordinator at Sacred Heart Parish, facilitated purchasing current addresses for the 7,127 households in Sacred Heart’s borders. This month, the parish is mailing a Christmas postcard to every household in their boundary or “mission field” as they call it. The postcards, which were printed at a discounted price by a local print shop owned by a parish member, feature a picture of Sacred Heart’s Nativity scene with the message, “Christmas begins with Christ!”

It also invites postcard recipients to church.

“We welcome you to worship with us and join in our celebrations through the New Year. … The entire staff of Sacred Heart Parish wishes you the peace and joy of our Savior, Jesus Christ, this Christmas Season.”

On the back of the postcard is listed the Mass schedule for Christmas Eve (4:30 and 9:30 p.m.), Christmas Day (9 a.m.), New Year’s Day (9 a.m.), and weekends (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, 8 and 10 a.m.).

Attendance is taken at every Mass, so Sacred Heart’s New Evangelization Committee, which is heading up this initiative, will know what kind of impact the postcards have on attendance. But getting more people in the pews during the Christmas season isn’t the only goal of sending out the Christmas postcards, said Mueller. “We’re trying to get more people in here and that also leads to Alpha. We have this data base now so we can use it multiple times.”

Deacon Schmidt explained that Alpha is an 11-week series exploring the Christian faith that starts in January. “It’s a program the diocese is coordinating through the Department of New Evangelization to help people really step back and consider, ‘What is there to life? How does God fit in? What do you think of Jesus? How does he fit into your life?” he said.

“The (Alpha) teachings are meant to be a real step forward and it starts with building a community with a light meal, then they have a video and discussion,” added Deacon Schmidt. “There are no wrong answers. Whatever is someone’s experience, they’re encouraged to share it but no one is required to share. By the time you get through 11 weeks you start establishing relationships with people.”

The MissionInsite list of addresses will be used for future engagement opportunities, according to parish leaders. The database includes ages of children in each household. “We can also target it when we do our youth programs, target those families to try to get more youth in,” noted Mueller.

Ultimately, Mueller would like to see membership at Sacred Heart increase. For Deacon Schmidt, he’s looking for a renewal for his parish and for the people in their parish field. “It’s that first step connecting with the people in our parish boundary area to invite them, to welcome them. Our hope would be that eventually they will grow in their faith with God,” he said.