March 19, 2010

Catholic Evangelization Outreach / Charlie Gardner

The evangelizing ministry of the greeter at Mass

In my occasional Sunday visits to different parishes, I am struck by the variety of experiences that I have had as I enter a church.

At Holy Angels Church in Indianapolis, I was warmly greeted and even acknowledged as a visitor during the liturgy.

When I visited the new church at St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, I was surprised and pleased to be personally greeted at the door even though both the community and its worship space are quite large.

But in the majority of cases, I have not received any greeting or welcome.

In Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Evangelization in the United States, our bishops encourage us “to make the evangelizing dimension of the Sunday Eucharist more explicit.”

Of course, much of this is done in the course of the liturgy itself. But it starts at the door of the church.

When we greet people coming to worship, we are evangelizing.

Pope Paul VI wrote that the Church exists in order to evangelize, and he defined evangelization as “the carrying forth of the Good News to every sector of the human race.”

We all share this responsibility of bringing Christ to others.

But especially in medium- and large-sized parishes, it is important to designate a group of people who will take the lead in this ministry of greeting and make a special effort to welcome those who are arriving—parishioners and visitors alike.

It helps if these ministers have a natural gift for hospitality, and are motivated by a sincere belief that they are greeting others in the name of Christ.

In his ministry, Jesus emphasized the importance of giving welcome, and he taught his followers to include others, especially those they might have preferred to avoid.

Ask yourself if this is an area that could use improvement in your own parish. Often, we assume that those who serve as ushers are also functioning as greeters, but this is not always the case. There is much more to this ministry than taking up the collection and finding seats for late-comers—as important as these functions are at Masses.

Our parishes need ministers of hospitality who are committed to developing a variety of skills, and to offering a broad range of hospitable services to the worshiping community.

These include the general skills of attentiveness, good judgment and effective communication as well as practical knowledge in diverse areas, such as the flow of the liturgy, the physical layout of the parish facilities and emergency procedures.

Liturgy Training Publications offers an excellent resource booklet titled Guide for Ushers and Greeters ( In addition to providing many practical suggestions, this booklet consistently encourages greeters to be rooted in their baptismal call to spread the Good News of Christ.

“When you serve as a greeter at your church, you are not making the first move in evangelization,” the guide explains. “Something has already prompted people to come to the door. Most are coming because they are members who have attended for many years. Some come less frequently. Others are visitors. But some few are checking out a Catholic church for the first time in their lives. The Spirit has moved their hearts, and they have taken a big step. Now it’s your turn. You are the face of Christ, and your welcome will evangelize.”

(Charlie Gardner is the executive director for Spiritual Life and Worship and director of Liturgical Music for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. For information about forming parish evangelization teams, contact Peg McEvoy, associate director for Evangelization and Family Catechesis, at or call 317-236-1430 or 800-832-9836, ext. 1430.)

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