The Archdiocese of Boston, like dioceses throughout the world, conducts annual surveys of parishes to collect statistical data for local and national directories. Some of the information is sent to Rome, helping to provide a snapshot of the universal Church. Most of the information gathered is numerical: how many people attend Sunday Mass, how many infants were baptized, how many children attend religious education classes, how many people were confirmed, how many people went through the RCIA process, how many funerals? Numbers, numbers, numbers. These statistics are important, but don't give great insight into the spiritual growth of members in a particular parish.
The Catholic Leadership Institute, recognizing the need for measuring and assessing the level of engagement in a parish, has designed a tool to look beyond basic metrics like number of baptisms, to a deeper understanding of a parishioner's engagement in the parish. CLI's ''Disciple Maker Index (DMI) is a pilot program for the new evangelization."
CLI writes, "This survey will provide you (the parishioner) the opportunity to reflect on your own spiritual growth and provide feedback on the efforts of the parish to help you grow." When the survey analysis is completed, parishes will receive a report with their findings as well as helpful benchmarks for how other parishes of like size and composition compared on certain questions. What are the similarities and differences between a small, suburban parish in this archdiocese and a small, suburban parish in another diocese? The survey consists of 26 questions about life in the parish. It is parish-based more than personal, but does include demographic questions for context. (e.g. gender, age, household status). Last week, representatives from Phase II collaboratives attended a presentation that explained the goals of the DMI and the feedback information that will be available to participating parishes.
Last year the DMI was rolled out to 21 parishes in three dioceses including the Diocese of Pittsburgh, yielding 9,000 total responses nationwide. According to the diocesan newspaper, the Pittsburgh Catholic, "The survey defined a vibrant parish as one that parishioners were likely to recommend, that fostered personal relationships with Jesus and trained parishioners to encourage others to follow Jesus. It found that the top five reasons Catholics would recommend their parish were, in order: the leadership of the pastor, vibrant and engaging liturgy, preaching connected to everyday life, forming parishioners as disciples of Jesus, and making people feel welcome and accepted." Describing the experience of Father David Bonnar, pastor of a participating parish in the diocese, the paper wrote, "the survey was helpful and encouraging to his (Father Bonnar's) parish's committee on the new evangelization. His people came away from the survey with a sense of energy and enthusiasm, and with a greater awareness of what needs they have to address. 'It was very powerful and poignant,' he said. 'There are many more lessons to be shared and learned.'"
In the Archdiocese of Boston, parishes in Phase II Collaboratives will be participating in the Disciple Maker Index. There is no cost to the Archdiocese of Boston to administer or process the tool. Philanthropic donors nationwide are working with Catholic Leadership Institute to make this valuable instrument available to dioceses. The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete and Phase II parishioners will be encouraged to complete the survey between Feb. 17 and March 10, 2015. Responses are completely anonymous and CLI assures participants that "answers... will only be used to aggregate the survey information." Parishes will receive the results in spring as they begin writing the local pastoral plan for their collaboratives. Rather than relying on anecdotal information, Phase II collaboratives will be able to discern priorities and set goals from a data-driven perspective.
The Disciple Maker Index is not an exercise in gathering information for the sake of knowing, it is a tool for doing. All questions and responses will prompt an action item. With their honest, prayerful responses, Phase II parishioners will have the opportunity to help parish collaboratives set forth a plan that will bring people to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
Susan Abbott is Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.