Corresponds to Question 42 of the survey.
Recently, my brother and his family came for an overnight visit that, even though it was short, inevitably brought out my latent desire to be the “hostess with the mostess.” So, just before they arrived, I found myself stocking the bathrooms with clean towels and plenty of toilet paper, as well as randomly touching up paint where someone’s shoe had left a huge scuff mark, and frantically changing out the gross shower curtain liner for a new one.
Despite my efforts, I accept that I’ll never be the next Martha Stewart. Those Pinterest boards are from a fairy-tale wonderland that I’ll never visit. But when guests are expected, I do stop and look around my house through their eyes. I ask myself what they’ll need to feel welcome and comfortable. I try my best to be the “Hostess with the Mostess” (while keeping the stress to a minimum).
Whether we know it or not, our hospitality skills are also put to the test when guests come to our parish campuses for Sunday Mass, a baptism, or even a Scout meeting. Evaluating the parish facilities through their eyes has many parallels to what we do at home. If we stopped to look at our parish campus this way, what would we find? Have we considered the needs of our guests above all, and have we created a comfortable, welcoming environment for them, no matter who they are?
While not the only parish survey question that sheds like on this, here I want to focus on Question 42: the size and condition of parish facilities. How do your parishioners perceive the size and condition of the parish campus? If it’s anything like the Archdiocesan-wide results, it would look like this:
- The size of the worship space is pretty good (88% say “just right”) and generally in decent condition (58% say “excellent”)
- Fellowship space and outdoor areas also are a good size (78% and 82% say “just right,” respectively) but maybe could stand a little sprucing up (41% and 43% say “excellent,” respectively)
- Adequate parking could be a challenge (73% say “just right”) and also might need some attention to its condition (36% say “excellent”)
A visitor’s first impression of our parish cannot be underestimated. It could well be the gateway for them to discover or rediscover their faith, or to decide to give your parish a try, or to make it their own, or even just break down preconceptions they have of the Catholic Church as old, tired, and out-of-date. Loads of behavioral theories and research suggest that aesthetics, simplicity, and order positively influence people’s choices, behavior, and attitudes.
Once you’re familiar with your own parish responses, take a deeper dive into an evaluation of how your parish campus looks and feels to visitors. I’ve translated twelve “Hostess with the Mostess” tips into questions you might want to ask about how your parish campus is perceived by visitors:
Put Out the Welcome Mat – Evaluating the Outdoor and Parking Areas
Tip #1: Make sure people can find the house easily
Translation: What identifies the parish campus as a Catholic place of worship? Is there clear, identifiable signage for the campus?
Tip #2: Provide adequate parking and make sure the walkway is clear so that people can get in and out easily
Translation: Is it clear where to park and is parking adequate? Do you mention this on your website with clear directions or a Google map? Is there a plan for handling parking and directing visitors during especially busy times? Are the walkways in good condition and well-lit?
Tip #3: Make sure the grass is mowed, flower beds are weeded, and seasonal flowers are potted or planted
Translation: Is the beauty of God’s creation celebrated in the natural features of the campus? Does the landscaping and its care make people feel safe and welcome?
Tip #4: Put out balloons and light the tiki torches so guests know they’ve arrived at the right place
Translation: Does the overall exterior convey a sense of welcome and celebration? Is the campus well-lit at night so visitors especially can find their way in the dark and feel safe?
The Quickest Way to the Heart is Through the Stomach – Evaluating the Main Worship Space
Tip #5: Make sure everyone is comfortable in the space where all the action takes place
Translation: Is the size of the worship space appropriate for the number of people expected? Will visitors be uncomfortable because they are packed in too tight or, conversely, because they are practically the only ones there?
Tip #6: Make sure the food and drinks are easy to get to and are positioned to avoid crowding
Translation: Is the circulation into, out of, and around the sanctuary good? Are there bottlenecks in particular places as people enter the building, go up for communion, or move to other areas?
Tip #7: Light candles, cue the perfect Spotify playlist, and set the table so everything looks beautiful
Translation: Does the worship space reflect reverence for the liturgy and glorify God through music, art, architecture, and other expressions of beauty? Does the worship space respect all those who enter it by being a comfortable, safe, and clean environment?
Tip #8: Anticipate the basic needs of your visitors
Translation: Are bathrooms clean and accessible? Are accommodations made for those with physical or other limitations, as well as families with small children?
“Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You” – Evaluating the Fellowship Space(s)
Tip #9: Make sure there are comfortable chairs and soft pillows for guests to ease into
Translation: Is the fellowship space the type of environment that would encourage people to linger, strike up a conversation, and relax, particularly if they are visitors?
Tip #10: Arrange the room to promote conversation and avoid conflict between activities
Translation: Can large groups gather without feeling cramped? Can small groups gather without feeling swallowed up by the space? Can different groups use spaces at the same time without conflicting with each other?
Tip #11: Provide places where guests can have some downtime with a book, a drink, and a snack
Translation: Are there spaces where people can engage in quiet conversation or small group discussions? Where does one-on-one pastoral care take place, and is it a peaceful, reassuring environment?
Tip #12: Make sure all your guests feel comfortable being themselves
Translation: Are fellowship spaces usable by people of different ages – from infants to the elderly? Are they the kind of environments that encourage people to let their guard down, form friendships, and be the person God created them to be?
Lastly, the Hostess with the Mostess knows how to maximize hospitality even on a budget. A fresh coat of paint is one of the cheapest ways to refresh a space, and flats of colorful spring annuals can be purchased in bulk for a few dollars at home improvement centers. Even something as inexpensive (or free) as getting volunteers to direct traffic can make a huge difference and practically scream “Welcome! We’re so glad you came!”
How are you making sure your visitors will leave wanting to come back?