Many of us have tried out a store or restaurant because of great and appealing advertising, only to have an unsatisfactory user experience once we arrived. Maybe it’s a price we didn’t expect, unfriendly or even rude personnel, or simply a feeling that the reality just didn’t live up to the expectation. Perhaps it is even worse when we walk into a favorite establishment to find it isn’t what we remember, but now only some shadow of its former glory and our former fondness.
As we think about inviting a friend or fellow parishioner to join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, are we unknowingly guilty of the same bait-and-switch between how we sell the Society to others and what they experience when they come to our meetings or otherwise encounter us? In marketing terms, we often think of promotion first to attract new members, when perhaps we need first to review and change the product. We may need to change who and what we are – not the Rule but our behaviors – before we can promote ourselves.
Do we only meet during the day, making it nearly impossible for working people to join our meetings and become an Active member? Could we meet once a month during the day, and another time at night or on the weekend to allow for more people to join based on their comfort and other commitments?
Likewise, do we conduct Home Visits only when convenient for us, but not for others who would like to help, or even for the friends in need who may not have our flexibility?
Are our meetings full of Conference business (Service), and don’t offer much if anything in the Society’s other Essential Elements of Friendship or Spirituality? Do we take the time to pray and reflect? Do we even take the time to enjoy each other’s company and make new or better friends among fellow members?
Is everyone invited to participate, or is it often the case that just 2-3 leaders or salty old vets dominate the conversations, planning and meetings? Do we follow term limits, and create leadership posts that don’t require experience, just interest and dedication?
When someone new attends, how do we treat them? Do we give them an opportunity to serve? Do we give them a Member Handbook and then review it with them? Or do we shunt them to the sidelines, don’t let them speak, and don’t follow up after the meeting to gauge their interests or ideas?
Do we quickly train and engage prospective members in our Home Visits, food pantry, or other works? Do they learn how these works are Vincentian faith in action, or are they just another service project?
How quickly do we begin Formation activities from introductions to Ozanam Orientations to Conference use of Vincentian Reflections? Is this a coordinated Conference priority, or is it left to individuals to figure out on their own?
Are young adults and people of color invited, and made to feel welcome? Or do we focus our recruiting and our meetings only on those who look like those already in our ranks? Does our membership reflect the parish demographics? The community’s?
All considered, are we who we say we are? Are we even who we think we are ourselves?
Between fall recruiting season for parish ministries and the added activities many Conferences take on during the holidays, it’s a good time to step back and assess the “product” of our local Society’s offering to prospective members. There may also be good value in asking someone from the outside to attend and tell us what they think of the Society from that experience. We might be surprised to learn how we have drifted toward certain behaviors and habits that make our Society less attractive, even less accurate, than who we say we are. Before we spend resources of time and money to advertise our product, let’s be sure it’s the product that we want to be and indeed, God calls us to be!
Yours in Christ,