The key to evangelization: start talking and start inviting

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAHere is a pop quiz. In the next month, if ten visitors come to your Sunday liturgy, how many would you guess will return for a second visit? According to Chris Walker, founder of, the answer is one or two. And can you guess the number-one reason the other eight to nine did not return?

Because no one talked to them. The number-one thing most visitors are looking for is a friendly parish. And how do they decide if a parish is friendly? They decide a parish is friendly by how many people talked to them.

Make a visitor’s first ten minutes awesome!

According to the Church Growth Institute, the first ten minutes of a visitor’s experience are important. Those big evangelical mega-churches are big for a reason. Many of them have greeters in the parking lot, striking up what will be the first of many conversations a visitor to their churches is likely to have on any given Sunday.

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIACheck out this webinar recording: “Evangelization: First Priority of the RCIA.” Click here for more information.


Make a visitor’s last ten minutes even more awesome!

But as important as those first ten minutes are, the crucial time is the ten minutes immediately after the dismissal. That is the time frame in which most newcomers make up their minds about the friendliness or unfriendliness of a parish.

When I read that, I immediately thought of what I did last Sunday as soon as the closing song was over. I rushed over to the facilities manager to get a key for a meeting room; I walked over to the piano to compliment the musicians; I hugged a friend I hadn’t seen in a while; and I ran off to a meeting I was having with some confirmation candidates. I did not talk to any visitors. I didn’t even look to see if there were any visitors. And I’m sure most of our parishioners didn’t look for visitors either.

An easy solution—or maybe not

The solution seems both easy and difficult. It is easy to look for visitors and chat with them, isn’t it? Yet, when I imagine trying to get my parish to do that, it seems hard. It would require a major shift in parish culture. It would require a lot of focus from the parish leadership to remind us and encourage us. It would mean we would all have to develop new habits.

The benefit to your parish

But what would happen if we could change our habits and start looking for and talking with visitors? The Church Growth Institute did some research to answer this question. They asked churches to block out six continuous weeks and observe the number of people who visited once, twice, and three times during that block. Then they asked how many of those visitors were active in the church one year later.

Guess what? The more often people visit, the more likely they are to become active parishioners. They found that 9% of the one-time visitors were active a year later. Of those who visited twice in that six-week block, 17% were active. And a whopping 33% of the three-time visitors were active.

So how to do we get visitors to make return visits? As we said at the beginning of the article, the number-one reason people don’t return is that no one talked to them. We have to start talking. And we have to start inviting. Invite visitors to coffee, a softball game, a Bible study, a “Why Do Catholics Do That?” night, a potluck, a how to plan your wedding (or funeral) workshop, a parenting class, a communications class, or anything else your parish is already doing or could be doing.

Three simple steps is all it takes:

  1. See visitors
  2. Talk to visitors
  3. Invite visitors
RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIACheck out this webinar recording: “Evangelization: First Priority of the RCIA.” Click here for more information.


What do you think?

Is this something your parish is already doing? Is it something you could be doing? What other ways can we welcome newcomers to our parishes?

See also these related articles:
  1. Blogging to evangelize
  2. Four ways to attract more seekers using social media
  3. Common sense ideas for attracting millennials to your parish
  4. This little light of mine — how to let it shine
  5. The simple truth about getting more RCIA inquirers

Share Button


  1. Our parish has 5 weekend Masses. It can be hard to know if someone is a visitor or just going to a different Mass. This is no excuse! If we don’t recognize someone as a parishioner, they are either a visitor (who should be welcomed) or a member of our community (who we should seek to be in relationship with).

    Another obstacle I face is trying to meet someone new after Mass when they are intent on getting out the door as soon as possible. If I sing the last verse of the closing hymn, the person seated in the pew behind me might already be in the parking lot. However, it is my hunch that if people are visitors looking for a home, they won’t be rushing for the parking lot, but instead may be lingering awkwardly, waiting for someone to talk to them.

  2. Do your parishes use exit greeters–people stationed in the narthex or at the doors waiting to greet people as they leave? I’m thinking this is a different role than those handing out bulletins.

    Wal-mart and other businesses employ workers to greet people as they leave. If they pay someone to do this, it probably is effective.

    My parish doesn’t have greeters (entrance or exit) yet, other than the ushers, though I’m working on it.

  3. Our RCIA team is at the door greeting at at least 2 of our 4 masses. We have people assigned as greeters from the parish itself as well. Most really enjoy doing it. Our parish prides itself in being a welcoming parish and part of that is greeting. I had never thought of “exit greeters”, I think I will suggest that to the “greeters” team leader. When weather permits we stand outside the church to greet as well as in the Narthex. With 4 Masses it is a little difficult to know who is a visitor. It is almost like having 4 separate churches.

  4. Great article, and we just talked about this in parish staff.

    HOWEVER, I object to the term “visitor”. People do not come to the parish or to Mass to visit. They come to pray, to worship, to find help, hope, and home, someone who almost looks like they will not bite.

    I am looking for alternative terms: newcomer, new worshipper, new friend, something besides “visitor”.

  5. Our EM’s stand at the door and greet everyone who comes into the sanctuary. However, I’ve come to realize that it takes more than that to be welcoming. We need to talk to the person next to us in the pew. When that person is a stranger, it’s more intimidating to do.

    We do begin liturgy by first standing and introducing ourselves to those around us but can’t engage in conversation then. We all need to be more inviting! Thanks for this “key to evangelization”!

  6. the best time to make a visitor to feel warm and welcome is as the moment of the peace. give he or she a warm shake hand, make them to feel as a part of your family.

  7. I am currently the DRE and have lived in our parish community for over 30 years and I still do not know everyone! How do other parishes distinguish non-parishioners/visitors? Are they asked to stand? Nametags? Just curious how others handle this?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *