Build a Front Porch

Apr 30, 2024

Where have all the people gone?
Why aren’t they participating like they used to do?
Why is it so hard to involve people in regular participation at Sunday Mass, parish events, catechetical programs, and more?

If you are asking these types of questions, then your parish reflects a national trend of declining participation in religious congregations. There are a variety of reasons that this is now true: the continuing impact of the pandemic on participation and volunteerism in the United States, younger generations disaffiliating from organized religion, increased busyness and complexity of people’s lives today, and much more.

Parishes are often expending a lot of time and energy on getting people “back to church” for worship and catechetical programming. Can we balance “bringing people back” with “going out to where people are”?

What if catechetical ministry began to focus on bringing the church to people? What if we created front porch experiences – spaces, programs, and experiences – that expand the scope and reach of the parish into the lives of people in the neighborhood and community? What if we made a special effort to reach and engage people who are not involved or have given up on church or were never affiliated with any church or religion?

One way to build a front porch is to move some of our at-church programs and activities into community settings, such as small group studies or support groups offered in a café, or a prayer/retreat experience offered at a retreat house or other quiet setting. Changing the location of a program can open up the possibility of inviting people to join in a neutral setting, especially if coming to the church is a problem for them. What programs and activities can your parish move to a new location to involve more people?

A second way is open-up programs currently sponsored for parishioners to everyone in your community, such as a vacation Bible school offered for all children in the community, service projects that welcome people from the community to get involved, the parish picnic, and much more. What programs and activities can your parish open-up to the whole community?

A third way is to offer activities directed to the needs, hungers, and interests of people sponsored by the parish in a variety of settings and spaces so that everyone feels comfortable participating. We have seen examples of this type of outreach in the variety of “theology on tap” or “God on tap” programs offered for young adults in pubs. A church could offer a variety of programs and activities targeted to different ages or audiences, for example:

  • Workshops, resources, and support groups targeted to all parents of young children, grade school children, middle school and high school adolescents
  • Family events for the whole community such as concerts, movie nights, games day
  • Programs and activities designed for older adults at the senior center or adult living center or nursing home.
  •  A Dinner Church ministry ( that brings people together over a meal to share stories, build relationships, and engage with each other spiritually.
  • Career and life mentoring or coaching, especially for young adults
  • Life skills courses for teenagers and young adults
  • An arts program such as art exhibits or arts workshops
  • A music program such as concerts, opportunities to join a musical group, and music workshops
  • Community-wide service days, service projects, and mission trips
  • And much more

What programs and activities can your parish create that address the needs of all people, involved in your parish or not, and offered in a variety of settings and spaces?


I like the image of a front porch to guide our thinking. While a front porch is “attached” to the house, it has its own space where people can gather and interact and have a common experience. It’s where they can build community. If parishes build a vibrant front porch, people may want to open the door and come inside.


John Roberto
NCCL Executive Director
[email protected]


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