Summertime is Outreach Time
Summer time is prime time for outreach in the eyes of an evangelizing parish. The neighborhood is a treasure island to be explored and summer is the perfect time to get out and explore. We all feel the summer urge to look around, get better acquainted with neighbors, and enjoy the beauty of summer sunsets. Who is holding us back? Shy Catholics that's who. Why not adapt the old custom of the dinner party to the outdoors? Make it a B.Y.O.P. cookout. It is easier than you think! And it can even be done by shy Catholics.
Are you a shy Catholic?
It is okay. Admit it. I am too. This strategy will make you an expert at making friends and making invitations over one meal. A "B.Y.O.P." (Bring Your Own Plate) is the best of all meals. Because it is a cookout there is plenty of room in your yard. Just cut the lawn two days before the event and open the garage if the weather turns wet. The host family agrees only to pull out their grill and lawn chairs (others can volunteer chairs as well). Another family picks up the burgers and dogs for grilling, along with a few veggies for shish-kabob. Other families are only asked to bring a 'light plate' to pass. This can be anything from fruit to a salad and because there is little or no cooking or decorating involved, this is the easiest dinner party there is!
That is why this strategy works for shy Catholics who find outreach intimidating. Catholics are intimidated by reaching out to neighbors because we do not know them that well. We do not want to come across as recruiting our neighbors. At the same time, either because of the pace of life, addiction to television or the shortness of good weather, we have few opportunities to hang out with our neighbors and get acquainted. That is why summer is prime time for outreach. Let a B.Y.O.P. (Bring Your Own Plate) do the work for you. Just have a cookout, invite a few neighbors and invite a few parishioners too. This is a chance to get better acquainted with parishioners and your neighbors all at once and it allows your neighbors to get to know your parish one-on-one.
Most of the old arguments against a dinner party are resolved with a B.Y.O.P. Some have argued that the pace of life today does not allow time to stay home all day preparing a sumptuous meal. But cookouts are so much easier. Others have resisted because their home is in such disarray and there is no time to clear or there is not enough room. Some churches have tried a progressive meal (travel to a different home for each course) as an alternative, but let's face it, once we get two or three courses in our stomachs, no one wants to get up and drive somewhere else.
The beauty of this plan is that gives the host family an excuse to get acquainted with their neighbors without the stress of having them inside the house. We all know how much we wish could spend more time with our neighbors after the winter hibernation. This is a perfect excuse to get \re-acquainted after the cold months and introduce our neighbors to our friends from church.
What makes it an outreach event?
The parish coordinates this event to insure that a parish staff or pastoral council member can attend. The parish can propose the names of a half dozen households to the host family to invite that live within the area and send out invitations to newcomers to the parish. The host family can add a few neighbors (often not parishioners) and you have the guest list for an easy and outreach event that is big on relationships and light on program. Of course if another neighbor sees the party and wants to join, there is always enough food for a few more.
In some parishes, the pastor, staff member or parish leader stops by to get acquainted with unfamiliar guests and offers a few words over dessert. These words over dessert can be about many things. It might be a blessing for a fruitful and happy summer, an invitation to prayer for a person or community in need, a word of encouragement for those among us who are confused about where life is going or unsure about God's presence, or it might just be a prayer of thanksgiving for the abundance of harvest, or the beauty and opportunities afforded by summer.
Get out the grill and give it a try!