My grandmother loved to watch chickadees flitting about her front yard. To attract them, she would hang a cage of suet off the corner of her front porch. I’ve never seen suet used by anyone else, and I always thought it was something unique to my grandmother. Suet is animal fat that is used in deep-fry cooking and sometimes for making pastry. Somehow, my grandmother knew that suet was also a delicacy for chickadees, and they would flock to her yard for breakfast every day.
Recently I wrote about the futility of sending out generic messages, hoping to attract inquirers to your RCIA process. In this post I want to give you some strategies that work for attracting inquirers. The key is to know who you are trying to attract and what they are interested in — just as my grandmother knew she wanted to attract chickadees and what would draw them.
1. Decide who you want to attract
Usually RCIA teams will say they want to attract everybody. If my grandmother had been interested in attracting “all birds,” she might have put out some common bird seed that was not well suited to the birds in her area. Perhaps the crows or other scavengers may have eaten it, but she wouldn’t have seen many chickadees. Pope Francis says, “We cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him” (Joy of the Gospel, 15). Those who do not know Jesus should be our chickadees.
2. Assess how others see you
Your parish, and by extension, your RCIA process has a reputation. Try Googling your parish and see what comments may be out there about your community. Even if nothing turns up, we can imagine some ways in which our chickadees think of us. Mostly, they think that we are not relevant to the needs in their lives. Some think we are hypocritical. Most think we are kind of cliquish. Perhaps they think we are judgmental. These are broad generalizations, and to know for sure how others see you, you will have to ask.
3. Decide where you are going to hang your bird feeder
Grandma wanted chickadees in her front yard so she hung the suet cage off the front porch. Today’s suet cages are Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, Twitter feeds, parish websites, or blog posts. It is important to pick one. Grandma didn’t move the feeder around every day. The chickadees always knew where to find it. In the same way, you need to create a consistent online presence where seekers can find you.
4. Decide what to put in your bird feeder — and stick with it
If you want to attract millennials who do not know Jesus Christ, you have to imagine and test articles, ideas, and activities that will attract them. And you need to keep your focus on just those things that will attract millennials. If you want to attract homeless or jobless people who have given up on God, you have to think of different “food” that will attract them and focus on that. A common mistake RCIA teams make is they begin to have some success in creating a conversion experience for their chickadees. Then some of the Catholic sponsors of the chickadees begin to have their own conversion experiences. And someone says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we got everyone in the parish to go through this?” Then, before you know it, the focus of the RCIA process is no longer on those who do not know Jesus. It shifts to a parish renewal program, and the chickadees begin to fade away.
5. Build an audience
Let’s say you have decided your bird feeder is going to be a weekly blog post that you write. How can you be sure the chickadees you want to attract will find it? You have to start by going where they are. Find out where your chickadees are hanging out and hang with them. If you are trying to attract millennials, comment on relevant Facebook posts or web articles. Always include a link back to your blog. If you are trying to attract homeless and jobless people, you may have to physically go to where they are (although even the homeless are online these days). And you can also begin connecting online with others who support those communities.
6. Read more and learn more
If you want to offer the right “food” for the people you are trying to attract, you will have to learn a lot more about them. Fortunately, the Internet makes that easy. Search online for topics related to your target audience, and spend some time reading about your chickadees. If you commit to reading an hour a week for 20 weeks, you will be an expert on the population you are focusing on.
7. Start telling your story
No matter who you are trying to attract, the universal constant is that people want to know your story. Why are you a Christian? Why do you believe? What gives you hope? Tell stories about your grandmother. Tell us about a time you failed and God loved you anyway. Tell us when you really “got it” about who Jesus is in your life.
8. Plan to fail
If you’re like me, you may get very excited about a new venture like this, and you’ll want to accomplish everything at once. Eventually though, if you’re me, you’ll get distracted or tired. You may have written three blog posts and done a few hours of reading, and then life happened. You got busy or just lost energy. That’s fine. Remember the first disciples. They didn’t succeed on the first try. Or the second. Or the third. To be successful at something like this requires a kind of sporadic consistency. If your plans don’t work out the first time, start again. And again, if necessary. And yet again.
My grandmother didn’t put suet out every week. She forgot sometimes, or she’d go on a trip. Or she was just too busy or too lazy to bother. But she did it often enough that I remember that about her. And so did the chickadees.
Share Your Ideas
What successes have you had in reaching out to seekers, millennials, and others on the margins? Please share them in the comments box below.
This article was inspired by “8 Steps to Building a Powerful Personal Brand That Will Change Your Life” by John White.
Photo credit: Evan McDougall | Unsplash