Throughout its 2,000 year history, the Catholic Church has gained a reputation for the many incredible structures it has built—cathedrals, universities, and hospitals, to name a few. But there’s one thing everyday Catholics often struggle to build: a strong community within their own parishes. Especially in large churches, it’s all too easy to view our participation as a “Mass and done” affair. But innumerable blessings can come from establishing meaningful (as well as casual) relationships with others at your home parish.
Whether you’ve just started at a new parish or have been a “pew potato” for years, there’s always something we can do to build the body of Christ. Try these tips for creating community at church.
Attend the same Mass weekly
The beauty of the Mass is, of course, the fact that you can attend anywhere and hear the same Scripture readings and experience the same liturgy. Mass is Mass is Mass … right? To a point, yes. But bouncing around from church to church or Mass time to Mass time won’t help you build community. Stick with a regular Sunday service and you’ll begin to see familiar faces and mingle with the same crowd.
Sit in the same section weekly
Just like Mass-hopping doesn’t lead to relationship-building at church, neither will playing Mass musical chairs. The simple act of sitting in the same general section every time you attend Mass means you’ll likely see many of the same people from week to week. Introduce yourself to those around you before Mass or during the Sign of Peace. Every friendship begins somewhere—perhaps one is waiting in the pew next to you.
Don’t leave Mass right away
The race to the parking lot after Mass can be a juggernaut of Olympic proportions. Many of us start booking it with the first chords of the closing song. But lingering to chat after church can be a vital opportunity to socialize with like-minded believers. Lunch or the football game can wait. Hang around and see what happens when you strike up a conversation.
Get to know your priest
He knows the ins and outs of your parish, he’s your spiritual shepherd, and it’s likely he’s a pretty interesting guy. (After all, only one out of every 2,000 Catholics chooses this critical vocation.) Get to know your priest on a personal level by having him over for dinner or taking him to coffee. When my family spent time with our priest, we discovered he loved photography and hiking and could play the banjo, to boot. Who knew?
Join a ministry
My church calls it “Mass +1:” the commitment every parishioner can make to get involved with just one “extra” at church. (Mine is our music ministry, where I’ve served as a vocalist for several years.) As nice as it is to make connections during Mass, spending time participating in ministry allows relationships to truly flourish.
Start a ministry
Maybe you’d like to join a Catholic book club or a couples’ support group, but your church doesn’t offer it. What if you could make it happen yourself? You don’t have to undertake a major commitment to increase your sense of belonging in your community. Start small with a handful of folks in a casual setting and see where things lead.
Head up an event
If you’re not looking for a long-term commitment but would like to contribute to the life of your parish (and meet people at the same time) consider hosting a one-time event. What could your community use: A food drive? A picnic in the park? A Valentine’s Day dance? Check in with your parish administrator to see what resources are available to make it happen.
Get your kids involved
There’s a social phenomenon most parents have experienced at least once: Your children actually make friends for you. Signing your kids up for catechesis, Vacation Bible School, or youth choir will not only enrich their spiritual lives but provide you with plenty of opportunities to meet other parents. Thinking back, I realize how many fellow moms I’ve connected with simply because our kids became friends first.
Attend a class
Many churches offer weekday classes on everything from Scripture study to Catholic Q and A. (My parish recently ran an awesome discussion group on Catholic social teaching.) Such classes are a special opportunity to learn—a bit like seminary for free—and the more intimate small group setting allows for deeper one-on-one connection.
Go on retreat
You may have heard it recommended that Catholics go on retreat. The benefits of getting away from it all aren’t strictly spiritual. When attending a women’s retreat a couple years ago, I met several wonderful ladies I never would have crossed paths with otherwise. Unless you choose a silent retreat, you’re guaranteed to get to know fellow parishioners on a church-sponsored getaway.