ASHWAUBENON — During the 2021 Discipleship Seminar held at the Resch Expo Oct. 21, parish leaders heard an update on the reengagement of church life across the Diocese of Green Bay.
Peter Murphy, Families and Schools of Discipleship Mission Team leader and chair of the diocesan reengagement task force, and Lori Paul, advancement director for Catholic Schools, presented details and ideas of what parishes can do to continue welcoming people back to church.
“Engagement is really designed with discipleship in mind,” Murphy told the gathering of some 700 parish and diocesan leaders. He described how, in Scripture, Jesus would respond to questions with another question.
“We can play this game, too,” said Murphy. “So let’s turn to Scripture and ask, ‘What would reengagement look like?’”
He cited several Gospel parables that model reengagement. They included the parables of the Prodigal Son, the lost coin and the lost sheep.
“When you read through those stories, you realize our Lord goes after us,” said Murphy. “He leaves the 99 to go get the one. He turns the house upside down to find that coin and then he also goes out looking for the son to return. We need to be actively seeking, as our Lord does, for those to return.”
Once the lost are found, Scripture points to celebration. “In every single story … what’s the reaction?” he asked. “Joy, rejoicing, there’s a party involved: ‘Thank you for coming back.’”
Finally, said Murphy, God restores the dignity of the person.
“We especially see that in the Prodigal Son,” he explained. “He robes him, he gives him sandals, he puts a ring on his finger. He restores our family relationship. That progression taught me how, in reengagement, we move forward. It’s really about discipleship, it’s really about sharing (the Lord).”
Murphy pointed to reengagement efforts that have already taken place. Most recently, he said, was the “Welcome Back Weekend” held in diocesan parishes Sept. 25-26.
Paul offered statistics on the Welcome Back Weekend success. She said 92 parishes participated in some way. “Two-thirds of our parishes did something to welcome people back,” she said. “During that same time, we also ran commercials on Spectrum.”
A social media campaign, “Catholic in Motion,” targeted young adults and attracted significant numbers of views, said Paul. “791,000 times they saw our message on their Facebook or Instagram feed and 66,000 people clicked it.”
Those who clicked on the message were taken to the diocese’s Catholic in Motion website, catholicinmotion.com. The “click-through rate” for people engaging in the message was 1.3%, said Paul. “The average Facebook click-through rate is .9%, so we did almost double what a traditional Facebook campaign does.”
Paul said more work is being conducted to learn how engagement on social media can lead to people responding to questionnaires.
“Our campaign will continue to focus on young adults,” said Paul. “We are also looking at doing some billboards for Christmas.”
“So there is a lot happening now,” Murphy said. “Social media, billboards, to drive people to you, to our parishes, to meet Christ in the local community where they live.”
He posed a question to parish leaders: “What’s next? Where is the Holy Spirit calling your parish to move next?”
One first step is to increase the number of missionary disciples in each parish. It can begin by recruiting the “low hanging fruit,” recruiting active parish leaders such as parish trustees and council members, said Murphy.
“They’ve stepped forward and said ‘I want to be involved,’” he said. “How can they now take ownership of the parish, even more so, and start being part of the greeting and welcoming and inviting people into their parish to become the champions for the parish they are meant to be?”
Paul said a tool at parishes’ disposal is utilizing church management software available to them known as GabrielSoft.
“You can use it to find more information about your parishioners,” she said. “For example, right now, you can check ‘families with children not enrolled in your religious education program.’ Wouldn’t that be nice to have them enrolled? So you can pull a report that shows you that information.”
Another opportunity to welcome and engage with more families is by taking advantage of the increased enrollment in Catholic schools, said Murphy.
“Our schools saw a 5% enrollment increase” in the past year, he said. “There’s 5% more families coming into our schools that are new. This is a great opportunity to work with the school principal and connect families and parishes together in a new way — whether that be a special Mass for school families or inviting them in a special way to build relationships.”
Murphy and Paul encouraged parish leaders to connect with local resources, such as community newspapers, to invite people to Mass. “Ultimately, let the Holy Spirit guide you to one next best step that will help invite people back to parish,” said Murphy.
Stacy Humbert, who was recently appointed diocesan missionary discipleship director, also addressed the assembly. She said her mission team is now offering a missionary discipleship intensive retreat for parish leaders.
“It is intense, a shot in the arm,” she said. “It really can help every parish equip missionary disciples. … There are effective tools you will learn and practice during retreat to help you do boots on the ground work for evangelization and missionary discipleship.”
Humbert said that 30 people recently completed the pilot retreat.
“One aspect of this retreat is that missionary discipleship is not a program,” she said. “‘We’ are the program. It’s such an important aspect because we have to get out of that ‘program’ mentality. People are always our best resource. As Bishop Ricken says, ‘We are called to call forth and form 1,000 missionary disciples to disciple at least two others.’ We have 700 people registered for this seminar today, so we are almost there. We are the boots that will be forming those missionary disciples.”
View more photos from the Discipleship Seminar on Flickr.