Have you ever had a wonderful idea for a parish event, found the perfect speaker and then had only a handful of people show up? I think anyone involved in parish life has had this happen from time to time, and it poses a significant challenge to parish evangelization. It may be your choice of date, time, or even time of year. Let me throw out a few considerations when you are choosing dates for your next parish event.
First, identify your target audience. It may seem like you want the whole parish there, but usually, that is unreasonable, and it’s very difficult to please everyone at the same time. What is your parish evangelization strategy, and who have you created this event for? Is it your first-time seekers for pre-evangelization? Is it parishioners who have been evangelized and are in need of formation? Or maybe it’s disciples that are ready for true ministry? Really think about who you intend to have come to this event. You may need to take off your "church worker" hat and try and put yourself in your intended audience’s place.
Sometimes when I chose a date or time for an event I consider what would work for me. That would mostly be a weeknight after dinner and before I wanted to go to bed. But does that really work for the people I want to come? Each audience may have a day of the week or time of the day might work better. For instance, if you are having an event for seniors, maybe you want to offer it during the day, so they do not need to drive home in the dark. If you are hoping to see young families you may have to have the event at 6:00 PM, even if you feel you might be interrupting dinner because they need to get kids in bed by 8:00 PM. Do you live near a big city and have commuters in the parish? Then you may need to start a little later. Does Saturday morning sound perfect? Have you thought about what families with kids might be doing on Saturdays? What you think is the perfect time may just be the perfect time for you. Think of what it means for your parishioners. It’s all about perspective!
It’s important to be aware of other things that are happening on a specific date. Don’t forget to check the calendar for your local school district. What time of year does school start? Parents may be getting ready for school to start a week or so even before it does. What about spring break? When will people be out of town? The big evenings for parent-teacher conferences or for “meet the teacher” night will guarantee your event will be poorly attended. Are Friday nights big high school football or basketball nights in your town? What about Homecoming or Prom weekends? Many parents and grandparents will be occupied on those weekends.
What does your parish or diocesan calendar look like? This seems like it an obvious one, but many times parish events are doubled up, leaving parishioners confused. Is there a parish youth retreat when you want to hold an event? Could the diocese be having a large fund-raising dinner that you need to stay away from? What about community events? Are the 4th of July parade and fireworks always on the 4th or is it the weekend before? Is there a community festival that the whole town goes to every year?
The Liturgical Calendar, this is the schedule of events for the universal church that determines Feast Days and Holy Days. If you choose an important Feast Day or Holy Day of Obligation, you may not only have your pastor a little irritated, but you may not have the attendance you are looking for. What about secular holidays? Often when we think of secular holidays to stay away from, we think of Halloween or Valentine’s Day, but don’t forget some of the more unusual holidays. Is Sweetest Day something that could keep your people away? What about the week of Thanksgiving? Are people out of town for long weekends like Presidents day?
Don’t forget to consider the weather in your area. If you live in the south, you may find it easier to do things in the summer when it is hot and people have to be indoors anyway. Folks in the mid-west or northern states may not be able to get people to come to a weekend event in October because it is the last weekend of nice weather before the snow hits. If you live in San Diego, don’t even worry about the weather because it is 75 degrees and sunny every day, so you can host an event any time you want!
Obviously, we can’t respect every single schedule for every single parishioner or we would never even have an event at the parish. But just reviewing a few possible hold-ups will eliminate the discouraging number of no-shows at your next event, and help you to better execute your parish evangelization strategy. It’s hard to get out of your own perspective and think about what everyone else is doing because it is just that - your perspective. But doing so just may increase your attendance at your next parish event so you can bring the gospel to more people.