Over the summer our Ministry released a new offering–a customizable suite of welcome materials to support parish welcome ministry. Writing, designing and investing in a welcome packet, banner, or other signage takes a significant investment of time and resources, so it’s helpful to have your audience and goals in mind from the beginning.
One surprising thing our Ministry has learned from our research is that three out of five audiences who tell us they find parish welcome materials helpful are already Orthodox. Current parishioners, Orthodox Christians visiting from other parishes, and Orthodox Christians who have recently relocated to your area are some of the most important readers.
Perhaps the most important audience is your current parishioners. By investing in a welcome packet, banners, and improved signage outside your building, your parish leadership helps current parishioners learn to demonstrate hospitality. They see by the effort put into the design and care of these materials, that hospitality is a core value in this parish. The parish should encourage all parishioners to take ten minutes to read materials written for guests; parishioners always learn things they weren’t aware of. For example, they might learn about the parish history or iconography/architecture that they didn’t know. They will find out the ideal way for inquirers to pursue learning about Orthodoxy and the parish. And when they read the gentle explanations and guidelines for entering into worship, they’ll have a better understanding of what is expected of them and their children. Familiarity with the welcome materials will increase their understanding and sense of belonging in the parish narrative.
Becoming familiar with welcome materials also gives parishioners increased confidence in speaking to newcomers or potential guests. A neighbor mentions that they’d come to church, but they’re not sure their kids would be welcome. The parishioner can respond with confidence , knowing that parish welcomes their children and can offer supportive strategies for navigating wiggly moments. If they meet someone in the narthex asking where they should sit, they’ll be able to guide them. At coffee hour, they’re chatting with someone who has been coming for a month and is asking about ministries. “You should come to the seniors’ luncheons—it says here to contact the church office in order to get introduced to the ministry leader, but they’re sitting right over there, so I can introduce you them today.”
Orthodox visiting from other parishes are the second audience who may read welcome materials. Many Orthodox Christians make a point of visiting the local parish when they travel for work, vacation or to visit relatives. They enjoy making connections, learning about the local parish culture, and often reflect on these visits when they get back to their home parish. It’s a pilgrimage and the welcome packet is a souvenir of their trip to help them remember and process what they experienced. They may like what they learned so much that they’ll be inspired to implement something they saw in their own parish.
Another important audience for your welcome packet is, of course, the newly-relocated Orthodox individual or family who is visiting area parishes in an effort to choose and settle into a new church home. When they’re offered a packet along with a warm greeting, they understand that you anticipated their arrival and prepared for them with love and care.
The next two audiences are non-Orthodox. The first of these are any friends and family who accompany you to church when they’re visiting town or just out of curiosity. Whether you’ve talked to your friends about Orthodoxy much or not, the greeter becomes a neutral third-party source of information. The welcome packet gives your friends a glimpse into parish life and parish goings-one that can reinforce, or perhaps round out, the picture you have painted for them. Whether they ask you about it or not, they now have something in their hands that invites them into relationship with the Church, a relationship that does not necessarily have to be brokered by you.
The final audience we will name is probably the one that you had in mind all along—the newcomer who is inquiring into the Faith and visiting the parish for the first time. The welcome packet is their playbill for the experience they’re about to have. How do we use our playbills when we go to the theater or a concert? Sometimes we page through them before or during the concert, and sometimes we take them home and page through them to refresh our memories about specific details. What we read there can help us process what we experienced long after the final curtain goes down. In the same way, a guest to your parish may revisit the welcome packet later that week or months after the visit.