Vocation Promotion Best Practices for Encouraging New Membership.
Vocation Directors often relish the chance to discuss the ins and outs of their ministry with people who understand it well. Some members (of the congregation) don’t always “get it”. The public frequently doesn’t. And even among practicing Catholics, myths about vocations can abound. Vocation promotion is everyone’s business – ordained, religious and laity. While there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, HORIZON hopes these eight best practices – grounded in data and backed up by experience – provide insights that will help religious communities move forward.
One truism that the 2020 study confirmed is that religious communities in the United States vary substantially: they have unique charisms, distinct financial realities, different ministries, and varied number of active and retired members. Thus, the capacity to act on each of these best practices is different from one religious order to another.
HORIZON begins with the belief that the gift of religious life is worth sharing. The 2020 study confirmed that young people have a desire to grow spiritually, live communally and perform ministry. Young adults – and not-so-young – adults seek their path and want guidance.
1. Decide you want new members
This sounds obvious, but, in reality a community will not attract and retain new members if the existing members don’t want them, even if this sentiment is not expressed overtly. There are many inadvertent ways to communicate lack of interest: members are too busy, no one is willing to stay up late with a young visitor, or few people will take a turn helping with a college retreat.
On the other hand, in the 2020 study, new members repeatedly report that they were attracted to communities that showed genuine interest in them, their welfare and their vocational discernment. Community members invited them to events, made them feel welcome, adapted to their youthful energy, and offered them an attractive experience of religious life. These themes arose many times when newer members talked in focus groups about their experiences in joining religious life.
The best-case scenario for communities that desire new members is to decide communally that they want them, have leaders and members that continuously prioritize that goal, and make ongoing efforts consistent with that goal. Most members need to believe in the community and its future in order for it to have a future.