Since its founding in the basement of a Connecticut church in 1882, the Knights of Columbus has grown to more than 1.8 million members in 14,000 councils. Inspired by the vision of its founder, Venerable Michael McGivney, and rooted in charity, unity and fraternity, the Order has become the largest lay Catholic fraternal organization in the world today.
The stronger the Knights of Columbus becomes, the more it can be “the strong right arm of the Church.” Motivated by love of God and neighbor, the Order aims to protect the financial future of Catholic families while serving those in need through countless charitable initiatives.
Growing the Order, however, is not just about numbers. Rather, membership allows individual men to experience the fraternal bond that Knights share while growing closer to Christ with their families.
The Supreme Council provides many tools to help with membership recruitment and growth, seeking to give every eligible Catholic man the opportunity to become a Knight of Columbus. Every council is likewise encouraged to implement personal strategies that attract new members, whether by organizing church drives, open houses or charitable events in collaboration with pastors and field agents.
As important as recruitment plans are, the personal witness of individual Knights is even more important. Pope Francis is fond of quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s statement that the Church grows by “attraction” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 15). Evangelization, in other words, is primarily a matter of allowing the joy of the Gospel to radiate in one’s life. In a similar way, Knights are called to bear witness to their faith through charitable works and the Columbian virtues.
In many cases, recruiting a new member is as straightforward as inviting him to join. Innumerable qualified Catholic men have not joined the Knights simply because they have never been asked to do so. Effective recruiters act as ambassadors, sharing the benefits of membership and offering these men the opportunity to deepen their faith, grow closer to their family, and build up the Church and their communities through charitable service.
Columbia editors recently spoke with three of these ambassadors, Knights who are among the most active recruiters in North America, to learn how membership in the Order has affected their lives and how they effectively invite others to become brother Knights.
More information about recruitment materials are available online here.
A member of Father Bonner Council 7599 in Edmonton, Alberta, Walter “Wally” Streit has recruited more than 2,050 new members since the 1970s, receiving Orderwide “top recruiter” honors at several Supreme Conventions. A past state deputy of Alberta, Streit is currently president of the Alberta Knights of Columbus Charitable Foundation.
RECRUITMENT: A PERSONAL ENCOUNTER
There is nothing that beats one-on-one personal contact. When I introduce myself, I show a special interest in the man and his family. I tell him the Knights of Columbus gives him a convenient opportunity to help the Church and the less fortunate. I explain the benefits of membership and the fact that being a Knight helps us keep closer to our faith.
A ‘CHARITY MULTIPLIER’
As a young man, I wanted to help the Church and the less fortunate, and membership in the Knights of Columbus provided that opportunity. Later, as a bank executive, I learned the importance of working effectively through others to achieve improved results. I have applied the same concept to recruiting. If each of the members I recruit gives hours of service as a Knight, the impact is considerably more than I could do on my own. It’s the charity “multiplier effect.”
The biggest challenge is recruiting family men between the ages of 25-40. These men are so busy. Both parents often work, and any spare time is devoted to the children. When I address the time constraint issue, I tell these young men that it’s OK to attend meetings only when they can. I just ask them to volunteer on two occasions during the year, preferably with their families. I give them examples: pancake breakfasts, the parish picnic, delivering food hampers and other council family activities.
A few years ago, I spoke at a large parish and then went to the back of the church. A man approached me and asked, “How much does it cost?” I told him the council dues were $40, and he quickly left. I turned to my associate Max and told him I thought that man was interested, but I had missed an opportunity to talk to him. Ten minutes later, the man returned and put down $40, having just returned from a bank machine. That man became a Fourth Degree Knight in his first year. He then became grand knight of his council in the second year and is currently an effective district deputy.
THE IMPACT OF RECRUITING
After recruiting more than 2,000 members and twice honored as a Circle of Honor State Deputy, I have seen the importance of K of C recruitment for the Order, the Church and the lives of Catholic men. While only God knows for sure, recruiting someone may very well be a factor in saving that man’s soul and, at the very least, it is a form of evangelization. The road of life is bumpy, and if being a Knight keeps him closer to his faith, that is profound.
A member of General Shields Council 888 in Ottumwa, Iowa, J. Pablo Martinez has steadily recruited brother Knights, primarily among the Hispanic community, in the four years since he joined the Order. His zeal and effectiveness have not gone unnoticed. Martinez was named the 2012-13 Knight of the Year by the Iowa State Council.
RECRUITMENT AND DIVINE PROVIDENCE
When God puts someone in my path, I talk to him and ask him if he’s Catholic. If I see him at church, I invite him to participate with us. I explain to prospective Knights the kind of things that we do and then invite them to join. God does the rest. Those who join are happy to be members and participate in the activities we do here in Ottumwa.
MOTIVATED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
I was invited to join the Knights of Columbus in 2011, when the council was looking for Hispanic members. In my case, I didn’t have to think about it at all. I just said, “Yes, what needs to be done?” and ever since then, I’ve been trying to make that small difference here in the community, inspired by faith and God’s love. As a Hispanic living in America, it is very rewarding when anyone thanks you for the work you do. It motivates me to do more.
WORKING WITH THE HISPANIC COMMUNITY
The greatest challenge in our Hispanic community is that people often don’t understand what the Knights of Columbus does. I am always looking for Catholics in my community to invite. If they say, “Let me think about it,” I don’t lose faith but give them some time. Then I invite them again, because Father McGivney founded the Knights so that Catholic men can better serve our community and the Church.
Sometimes it’s simple; sometimes I explain more. I explain a little bit about the charitable work that we do and our activities. Prospects get interested when I tell them that we support the community and that most of all we help the Church.
I have a Hispanic friend who is a policeman here in town. One day I saw him outside of church dressed in his uniform, and I asked if I could take a moment of his time to talk about the Knights of Columbus. When I explained what we do, he said, “Yes, OK. Where do I sign?” He became an active member, and now he often shares with people how much joining the Knights of Columbus has changed his life.
I have another friend, who is older and who left the Church after his daughter died. I would often talk to him about the Knights of Columbus, until one day he told me, “All right.” He returned to the Church and received his First Degree. Thanks be to God, we now go to church together.
INVITING NEW RECRUITS
Every Knight should make an effort to recruit at least one new member. Don’t be ashamed to invite someone a friend, a family member or any Catholic man to participate, so that he can experience the opportunity God gives us to make a difference in our communities.
At age 21, Casey Kamery of Msgr. Thomas P. Healy Council 6979 in San Marcos, Calif., serves as college coordinator for the Knights of Columbus San Diego Chapter. He has encouraged young men at area colleges and universities to get excited both about the Order and their faith.
FOSTERING A WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT
When you join a council at least where I’m from the council always says, “If you have any new ideas, bring them up.” One thing our Order is based on is fraternity. I try to make it so that when new members join, they’re accepted. I think that’s something that a lot of people are afraid of when they join something that they won’t know anybody. So I want them to feel that they’re welcomed right away.
SPEAKING TO MILLENNIALS
It’s very important to recruit younger guys because in order to have a strong future, you need a strong foundation. That’s what the Order is going to be based on, not just in the next couple of years, but for the next 50 years. I think the Knights of Columbus is a great way to get young men excited about their faith at a time when many are falling away from it. Speaking from my own personal experience, the Knights of Columbus has been the number-one way that I’ve served the Church since I turned 18, and it has definitely helped me to be more faithful.
OVERCOMING RECRUITMENT OBSTACLES
The biggest obstacle for younger guys is that they have their studies, and many are also involved in a young adult or youth program. They don’t have a lot of time on their hands, and that’s a hard thing: to get them to want to put something else on their plate. To overcome that barrier, I tell them, “Just put in two to three hours a month. Do one or two activities a month. I know you’re going to be at the pro-life walk anyway, so why not wear your K of C shirt and represent your council? You’re helping us grow the faith and grow the Order.”
THE ROLE OF COLLEGE KNIGHTS
Recruiting for college councils is different than for other councils. You point out who else is joining, and the fact that this is a way to serve not only the parish, but also the college. Prospects are attracted to the fact that it isn’t a regular council, like at their home parish. They like to be able to participate in sports events, barbecues and other events relatable to younger guys.
ADVICE FOR FELLOW RECRUITERS
Recruiting new members doesn’t have to be stressful. Most of the members I’ve recruited have been on a person-to-person basis, outside of membership drives. I explain to them what we do, as well as the Order’s history and the importance of the faith in America.
Don’t be afraid to give a new member at your parish, or another prospective member, the opportunity of a lifetime to be a Knight of Columbus. Don’t be afraid to show your own faith. The best way to do this especially for men is through the Knights of Columbus and what we do.