Letting People Know: Tips On Writing a First Impression
By Fr. Michael Prokurat
Communication Piece About Your Parish
What do people in your local community know about your parish? Are you communicating what you really want them to know? One of the most important ways visitors form impressions of your parish is through the printed material that you send out as a follow-up to their first visit or contact.
Remember that individuals reading your communication about your parish do not know anything about you. In fact, they probably do not know anything about the Church at all. As you develop your first impression communication piece, imagine that you are a reader who knows nothing about this parish. As someone who is not a member of the Church, what values does the Church represent that you identify with? What benefits of involvement in this parish would make you want to explore the possibilities of joining? What areas of parish life would be of particular interest to you, and meet your spiritual needs?
Remember that many people who read your communication piece will not be members of any parish. Every reader lives in a modern day and age. Be sure that the words, language, and phrases reflect the Church’s and parish’s relevance for the life of the world. A good parish can help people cope with the complexities of modern life, finding meaningful solutions to problems facing today’s individuals and families. The language you use needs to reflect this relevance. It also helps to include a good number of pictures showing people enjoying God’s blessing through the activity of your parish.
People are interested in spiritual involvement in a parish. Your communication piece needs to reflect the various opportunities an individual or family has available for this, because they want to become involved in a particular activity or group which enhances their spiritual life. Some examples would be the worship of the Liturgy, the ministry of the Sacraments, educational classes, Bible studies, choir singing, etc. Emphasize how each of the activities and groups in your parish can provide an opportunity to become involved, highlighting the benefits of involvement.
A number of options are available when it comes to the format of your communication piece. Some parishes have found a “tabloid” or newspaper style to be workable. This provides opportunity to include interesting pictures and illustrations, as well as a descriptive written copy. (The newspaper style of introducing the parish to non-members can even be used as a local newspaper insert, depending upon the aggressiveness of your publicity program.) Other parishes have found a brochure or small packet, describing the various ministries of the parish and opportunities for involvement, to be more workable. These formats allow for the addition and deletion of material which naturally changes over time with new people and programs. Your imagination is your only limitation when it comes to producing creative formats.
Can a good communication piece, introducing your parish to visitors and prospective new members, help the priest, council, and congregation more effectively reach the goals of parish growth?
Here is what a first impression communication piece about your parish is not:
- It is not the best way to communicate God’s love to visitors and the people of your secular community.
- It is not an effective way to motivate people to grow in their personal spiritual life.
- It is not going to change the overwhelming first impression of a new visitor to your parish. That is to say that it is not going to change reality. Visitors will ultimately respond to what they experience in your parish, not what your communication promises the experience to be like.
Basically, the function of a good first impression communication piece is to inform visitors and people in your local community of your desire to reach out in love and show that the needs we have as children of God are fulfilled by God in His Church. Creating a good communication piece is a difficult task, but you should constantly seek ways of telling visitors and people in your local community that your parish is ready and willing to provide a special source of fulfillment and newly-created life in Christ through fellowship in His Church.