Get Rid of That Large Parish Feel Once and For All! {in 10 easy steps}

Get Rid of That Large Parish Feel Once and For All! {in 10 easy steps}SMALL

Growing up in East Texas, my parish was large even by small town standards. It was, nevertheless, filled with loads of community. After all, it was still a small town, where everyone knew each other and their bidness. When I joined the parish pastoral council at my church – a church that sits on a modest 30 acres and is blessed with a BOOMING “population” that rivals and exceeds a good deal of those East Texas towns, it became imperative to me that we find a way to make our parish feel smaller {i.e. 6,200+ families or 20K+ parishioners}.

It can be easy for outsiders to look in and say tsk tsk tsk, such a large parish…too large, if you ask me – parishes weren’t meant to be that large. Well, we can’t kick people out of the parish – nor would we want to! What we can do is work on how each of us responds to being in a large parish. As someone who used to be unplugged and on the periphery of the parish life, I give you 10 ways you can make your parish feel smaller.

1. Get to know your priests {and religious community}. Believe it or not, priests are people, too! Shocking, right? Growing up, I used to have a phobia of religious people. I thought of them as people with whom I could not in any way, shape, form or fashion have a casual conversation. They were, I reasoned, people who were so incredibly holy that I couldn’t be myself around them. As a result, I became awkwardly unsure of myself in conversation. I carried this ridiculous baggage with me into my adult years and it honestly wasn’t until I had to work with our parish priests during my time on the council that I finally let that go! I found out that, lo and behold, priests – and all religious – are, yes, incredibly holy people who I look up to for guidance, but after that, they are FUNNY. And REAL. And APPROACHABLE. You can get to know your priest better by greeting him after Mass each Sunday, invite them to dinner, birthday parties, make a meal for them and drop it off, OR you can buy them super cool UT Longhorn Santa hats to wear during the endless Christmas parties at various church functions {just for the record, I did buy Father Dean a ::shudder:: Aggie Santa hat, too}, you can even send them Father’s Day cards! If you invite them for dinner, understand that priests, especially diocesan priests, are incredibly busy. We once scheduled a dinner three months out because Father Jonathan’s schedule was just that crazy. Other times, they may just surprise you by coming over for a last-minute scheduled quick visit on Thanksgiving! What are some ways you have gotten to know your priests?


2Learn the history of your parish. When folks comment how big our parish is – almost in an it’s too big for us to get involved kinda way, I like to share the history of the parish. It helps bring it down to a very personal level and can be a great way to invite people to make the decision to join our parish family. The history of St. William of Vercelli Catholic Church is amazing. It goes back almost 100 years and it’s also a parish I used to attend when I visited my cousins as a little tot living in South Austin. During college I worked at the Austin Children’s Museum and two of my co-workers were {unbeknownst to me at the time} children of the family who brought Sacred Heart, now St. William to Round Rock. I would put two and two together years later when we joined and I saw them at our parish. I came to learn of the generosity of the Carlin Family and their involvement in our parish today is every bit as present and known as it was in 1916. Our parish has strong Mexican roots, but has become this wonderful mix of Anglo, Asian, African, African American and Hispanic, old and young, rich and poor. People on the outside sometimes comment that our parish is rich, but what they see is a perceived financial rich. Our parish is indeed rich…in all aspects. Find out what your parish history is and be unafraid to share it with others. 

3. Share your love of the Faith and your particular parish at the grocery store, the park, the work environment. Now that you know the history of your parish, share it with people you meet in your everyday path. Even though I’m not one to initiate a conversation on religion – that might seem strange to some who know me – I am always waiting for a good in in a conversation that allows me to share the Faith, or my experience at my parish. I want whoever it is I’m talking to plugged in and owning their Catholic faith through their community.  I will not hesitate to tell you all about my home parish – not because I think St. William is better than other church, but because it’s where our family has planted roots. I am also not a parishioner at any other parish, so it makes sense that I will tell you about the wonderful things going on at my church – from the number of Masses offered {17 Masses, including daily Mass times}, Reconciliation times {almost everyday of the week}, the activities, groups, ministries that are active in your parish {get ahold of a copy of your parish ministry guide – don’t have one? Create one!}, Perpetual Adoration, Stations of the Cross, etc. Be prepared to give an answer for anyone who wants to know about the Faith and your parish. Believe it or not, people crave community with one another. Help them find ways to plug in!

smallphoto 24. Get yourself plugged in. Now that you have told people about all these great things, it sounds even better if YOU are plugged into your parish, too! Grab your parish ministry guide – perhaps you could finagle someone on your parish pastoral council to create one if your church doesn’t have one – go through and see what jumps out at you. What are you good at? What are your charisms? Find a ministry that lines up with your charisms and join that ministry. Don’t join a ministry just to join. It’s important to find what God is calling you to do with the talents He’s given you and do just that. May I suggest you first attend your Adult Faith Formation program? ::shameless plug::

5. Get your kids plugged in. Now that you are plugged in, your kids will want to follow suit! Using that same ministry guide ::notice a theme here?:: 😉  flip through the book and find activities that your kiddos can join. This helps make the parish seem smaller and your children will enjoy making and seeing friends around the parish campus. What are some of your favorite programs, activities, or ministries at your parish?


6Invite friends to join you. People see how much you enjoy your parish – that’s GREAT! Now, it’s time to invite them to come check things out. Be sure to tell them what Mass time you go to so you can chat afterward. Introduce them to others after Mass. If they aren’t Catholic, no worries. Invite them to investigate what the Church teaches by asking them to consider RCIA {Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults}. If that doesn’t suit their fancy, invite them to any non-Mass event, like a community music concert that your parish puts on in the church. I like to invite people to just come check out the campus. We walk around and I show them the replica of the original Sacred Heart chapel, the main church and the history of the stained-glass windows and where they came from, or the campaign to fill in the clerestory windows or how we found the St. Peter and Paul bronze statues. I also tell how the St. Vincent de Paul Sacred Heart Clinic buildings are replicas of the Carlin Family home where the first Mass was said in the early 1900s. I show them the outdoor stations of the cross and La Virgen de Guadalupe grotto, maybe even take them over to the baseball field. Yes, we have one! You might find my husband playing an impromptu game there with his Knights buddies. It’s not just a church, but a community centered on helping others and fostering and nurturing those relationships. The people I have shown the campus to have all enjoyed seeing what a vibrant parish looks like simply by walking around the grounds. 

7. Greet people before Mass. There’s no better way to get to know people than to stand by the door and greet. For the past two years, I have greeted at the front door with Father Dean. It has sort of become this thing that we do for 9:30 Mass. We have to get there before 9:00 a.m., anyway, so that our oldest son can serve. After we say our prayers, I gather up any of the little kidlets who want to come with me to learn how to greet. There is something very sweet about shaking toddler and baby hands and saying good morning. It’s also a good opportunity for the kids to run around outside and burn off some steam before Mass. 😉

8. Go to the same Mass time, sit in the same area. This isn’t always possible due to a variety of reasons, but over the long haul, if you have a favorite Mass time and spot to sit in, it can create and foster some friendships. You will see the same people attending 9:30 a.m. Mass and they might even come to forgive the perpetual circus and cat-herding show your family puts on each week. They may even tell you you did a good job and that your children are so well-behaved, even though minutes prior to, you were scraping a kid off the floor from under the kneeler while trying to keep another kiddo from yanking down your skirt – yes, this really happened…to a friend! I have sometimes been known to graciously thank someone for their kind words and in the same breath ask them to please not follow us to the car and see how they, us, really behave!


9. Adopt the University of Texas at Austin football slogan. My Texas A&M priest and spiritual director will cringe if he reads this, but UT students, graduates, and diehard college football fans {uh hem…raising hand} know and love the slogan of come early, be loud, stay late, wear orange! {optionally, you can wear burnt orange and be loud…but be loud outside and away from the church} 😉 This means come to Mass early and stay afterward to visit with friends and priests {maybe your priests are your friends, too?}. At St. William, we often have one ministry or another cooking up a hot Mexican breakfast after 9:30 Mass, so it is not uncommon to find a steady stream of the “yoosh” crowd in the parish hall for some num nums and social time. The plus is you won’t get stuck in the just-after-Mass-gets-out-parking-lot games.

smallphoto 110. Join your parish pastoral council. Of course, I have to plug this one because that’s where I’ve spent the past three years of my LIFE! While I discerned for a year prior to joining the council, some concerned people told me that joining the pastoral council would be fruitless and a waste of my time. I want to tell you that that was not my experience and it doesn’t have to be anyone else’s experience, either. I dove in with both feet and I think my experience of being the recently un-plugged parishioner motivated me to find ways for others to get involved beyond Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation. When others have a negative view of a particular ministry, brush it aside. If you want your ideas heard and love the idea of being an agent of change, the pastoral council {in conjunction with a priest who desires the input from his flock} is a GREAT way to not only share ideas and help with projects, but it also helps you have a clear pulse as to what’s going on in the parish and help you connect others with your church.


What ways do you find help make your parish feel smaller?

  • Diane AshourDecember 12, 2013 - 10:45 pm

    One of my friends pinned your column on Pinterest, and since we have a big parish I thought I would see what the scoop is. I thought, “Wow, that church sure looks like St. William…” I have an aunt and uncle who belong to the church who you probably know if you are plugged in! I like your ideas. Love the part about same Mass, same place. We do that and have gotten to know people that way! Anyway, one great thing in our big parish is our family religious ed program. Several groups of about 4 or 5 families spend the year (or years) together doing lessons every other week in their homes. What a wonderful way to get to know others! And, it brings Christ into our homes. Also, my own family volunteers as the library coordinators. So, we get to greet and help a lot of people who come through.ReplyCancel

  • MartinaDecember 13, 2013 - 8:29 am

    Hi Diane! How cool that your relatives attend STW! There are *so* many activities that it all just depends *where* they are plugged in as to whether I know them. But, when I put the ministry guide together {that I reference in the article}, I *did* meet quite a few of our parishioners who do so much for our parish. What are your aunt and uncle involved in?

    I really love that your parish doing family catechesis – I think that’s something I’d like to take before my priest and Adult Faith Formation team and see if we can put that on the perpetual list.

    And I LOVE the idea of a library. That’s been on my heart for years. We have space issues right now – hard to believe with such a large parish – but, with limited *permanent* space, I don’t see an immediate place for a library, but I’m going to pray about that, too. Small steps, lol.ReplyCancel

  • Heather WoyakDecember 28, 2013 - 9:51 pm

    Ok! I am working on #1! We are part of a large parish, as well. I’m actually unsure of how many families. But, our directory is like a book! Anyway, do you have any more tips on having a priest over for dinner. I just invited one of ours over and would love any suggestions. My mom used to do this all the time (no biggie to her, her father was an Episcopal priest. so she was more used to the idea). Sounds silly, Im sure to even be asking. But anything will be of help! Thanks! Love you blog!!ReplyCancel

    • MartinaDecember 29, 2013 - 8:22 pm

      Hi Heather!

      How great that you invited your priest over for dinner! I usually ask if they have a preference of what to eat and go with that. I also try to remember to send along a thank you note or e-mail thanking them for their time because they *are* so busy!

      I hope your dinner goes well and be sure to drop by and let me know how it went! Good luck! 🙂ReplyCancel