Hello, Church? Anybody Home?


retro phoneIn the midst of decades of proclamations for a New Evangelization, I have a very easy, free suggestion that will yield a huge return. Ready for it, Church?

Answer your phones, return calls, and return emails.

Yep, it’s that simple.

Whatever nonsense am I writing about, you might inquire. I’ve worked for the Catholic Church for over fifteen years and it appears to be our Achilles heel. Yet, it is the single most positive action we can take that will bear immediate fruit.

Seriously? Yes!

How do I know that such a simple thing will yield a bountiful harvest? Because I do that very thing and the numbers are staggering. To our benefit and the loss of others, I hear this over and over again from couples: “No one got back to me, no one returned my call.” I just heard last week from a couple who lives over forty-five minutes away, that “none of the other Catholic Churches” in their area, “answered the phone or returned my calls.” I have several couples who drive across the valley passing up ten other Catholic Churches, because I returned their query about marriage preparation. My parish is second in the diocese for weddings because I take the time to answer the phone and return emails in a timely manner.

It’s certainly not my winning personality or some extraordinary magical program I offer. No, what brings them in is the fact that I actually make a point of reaching back out to them and not throwing up ten obstacles in their path before I will even sit down and get to know them.

I can’t count the number of frustrated couples that, when finally welcomed, have changed their attitude towards the Church, had an amazingly positive experience, and transformed not only their own hearts, but actually started practicing their once-dormant Catholic faith. We’ve experienced conversions too as we have gotten to know the once lost sheep through assisting in their good intentions for marriage or convalidation in the Church.

I promise there would be so many more stories to tell if we would do what we have been called to do, (and in some cases paid to do). Honestly, what’s more important than serving the people we are called to serve? We don’t even have to get up out of our chairs and beat the bushes, wade in the mud, or go into uncharted waters, we just have to sit in an office and pick up the phone or mouse.

You may think I am over simplifying things, that it couldn’t possibly be so easy. There must be a catch. There is no catch.

“Well Barb, it’s not about quantity but quality.” I agree. The Catholic Church offers what people are starving for and don’t even realize it. Through a need for a sacrament, funeral, or other service we have a unique opportunity to be the love, voice, and hands of Jesus. Our joyful faces, enthusiastic welcome, and merciful listening ears are all that is required.

As I travel here and there I often see in parish bulletins or websites something like this:

“You must be registered in the Parish at least THREE months prior to beginning the nine month process and be active and practicing Catholics with NO Canonical impediments to marriage…”

If I was a wandering Catholic who had been away since high school and was considering the possibility of getting married in the Church, I can assure you that little statement would turn me away from even inquiring. “THREE” months in caps carries a huge intimidation factor. Does your “average Joe” on the street have any idea what “NO Canonical impediments” even means?

Jesus met people right where they were at. He got to know them, loved them, and then called them to more.

If you think I am blowing smoke about answering the phones and returning emails, try it out for yourself. Make some inquiries through email regarding the sacraments. Make some phone calls to your local parishes and see how far you get. I am hoping you have a far better experience. Pastors should routinely have calls and emails come into the various ministries and see what the response time and reception is at their own parishes. We called some of our local parishes as we were seeking information about costs for weddings. Most of the parishes didn’t have a human answering the phone, some took days to get back to us and others not at all. I know firsthand the frustration our couples are feeling and it is heartbreaking, unnecessary, and lazy!

So here is the challenge, Church, try to be attentive to your calls and emails for the next month. Don’t let a single one escape your loving, positive, and inviting attention. The Lord is depending on His Church to be available to His children.


About Author

Blessed daughter, sister, wife and mother. Married to my darling husband Mark for 32 years, loved and challenged by our five young adult children. Working full time in the Diocese of Phoenix as a youth and marriage minister for over ten years. Writing for me is a means of sharing my observations of the Lord's work and Presence in everything from the smallest to the most obvious moments.

  • Deanna Bartalini

    So simple, yet not done.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • yes- in the ‘mega’ parish here (10,000 registered families)- it is impossible to reach a priest between 5 PM on Friday and 9 AM on Monday (the secretaries have the weekend off)- maybe parishes should start some kind of phone service like doctors do- with the ‘on-call priest’ ready to go do what needs to be done….

    • (I’m Byzantine Catholic- we are super small, so all our parishioners have the personal cell of the priest and he answers his phone at any time- or answers a message within the hour)

  • smk629

    I so agree with this article. My parish shares our pastoral staff with a neighboring parish. There was an announcement in our bulletin about Adoration at our parish, with a day and time. I assumed it was in the church and made plans to transport an elderly fellow parishioner so we could both attend. My husband picked up a bulletin from our sister parish, and it had the same announcement for Adoration at our parish, but indicated it would be at a newly-refurbished chapel on the grounds. Since the info was conflicting and I was transporting another parishioner, I e-mailed our parish business manager and copied our pastor, asking for clarification. I waited until the day before Adoration, with no answer. So I contacted a member of parish council, who gave me the correct info. I sent another e-mail to the business manager and pastor, telling them that I got my answer, so they did not need to reply. Two hours later I got an e-mail from the business manager telling me that I was welcome at the parish, but that if I did not get a reply to my questions it is because I am “caustic, dramatic, and disrespectful.” I had my husband look over my original e-mail request before I sent it, and he found no fault with my content or tone. Having been a secretary for decades, I have never denied or delayed help to anyone, especially when representing my employer. Sadly, this attitude from priests and parish staffs is far from unusual in our area. With this kind of response, it is no mystery to me why Catholic parishes, at least in my area, are losing parishioners at an alarming rate. God bless you.

  • Howard

    As a convert, I have to admit that Protestants — or at least the Baptist churches with which I used to be affiliated — do a much better job of welcoming visitors.

  • ForChristAlone

    As far as plain ole courtesy and customer service goes, the Catholic Church gets an F-

    If the Catholic Church was a for-profit business, it would have gone bankrupt a long time ago.

  • Tony de New York

    i called my parish and an answer machine came in. I thought that was very cold.

  • An important and needed article. Thank you! When I wanted to enter RCIA, my call to a parish’s RCIA director was not returned. After two weeks, I contacted another parish. Thankfully, the pastor there answered the phone and made an appointment with me on the spot.

  • Ronky

    I’m going to print out your article and ask our parish office staff to put it on the wall of their office.
    In the last year I have had two people who have now become Catholics, tell me that they phoned and emailed the parish office enquiring about becoming a Catholic and nobody ever contacted them! It was months before they summoned up the courage again to try through another method.
    Catholics under-estimate how much guts it takes to make that phone call or email. Many of the enquirers have been wrestling themselves over it for months, years, even decades. For them, this is the most important phone call of their lives! Yet our parish office staff ignore it, don’t answer, or lose their details, or don’t pass them on to the RCIA team. Or say “sorry you’re too late for this year’s RCIA program, ring back in 9 months when we start the next one”. AAArgh!
    We spend so much time trying to get people in who show no interest in becoming Catholcis, and yet we ignore the low-hanging fruit that is ripe for plucking!

    • Barb Lishko

      Thank you all for your sad but true stories. It is heartbreaking and unnecessary. These are the ones we “hear about” how many don’t give the Church a second chance?
      It takes so much courage for someone to make the call or type an email. I love the visual of “low hanging” beautiful ripened fruit just ready to be gently plucked, and tenderly cared for. God has delivered them to our doors, and the door is locked- Unacceptable!
      I am at a loss yet compelled with all my might to be an agent of change. We all do, this is too easy to ignore. There is too much at stake to just complain but not do something personally.
      So how can we help turn the tide? What can we do as Catholics? This simple, free, priceless, service that can change a life and save a soul must be fixed. Thoughts? Suggestions?

      • TK

        Everybody who reads this could at least make an effort to share this with their pastors and/or parish office staff.

        • Barb Lishko

          Agreed!! I am not sure many pastors call their own parishes and know how things are handled..or not, in a evangelizing, friendly, timely and helpful way.

  • MissTrixieB

    I am the receptionist for my parish and make an effort to return every phone call within the hour of their receipt. I refuse to turn the phone over to voice mail unless I am helping someone who has walked in. I’ve heard horror stories from people from other parishes about the treatment they’ve received at the hands of some parish office staff. The worst was a woman who came in because on a long holiday weekend, her husband dropped dead of a heart attack. We stay open on holidays because life doesn’t end for those who may need us. I was glad we were able to help this young widow in her time of grief. I don’t believe there is any excuse for not returning calls or emails. That was not acceptable when I worked in the private sector and it definitely should never be even tolerated when working for the church.

    • Barb Lishko

      Thank you for your gift of sacrifice and self to those who call at the parish you work at. All who call are blessed to encounter someone like you 🙂

      • MissTrixieB

        Thank you!

  • accorn

    This is so true. I was raised catholic but fell away and a few years ago I tried to call my local parish asking how to reconnect. Radio silence was my answer. I’ve tried again recently and i’m waiting to find out if it’s more of the same. I’m really starting to wonder if it’s gods will that I not be Catholic.