Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.

8.15.2012

Perspectives from Parish Leaders: U.S. Parish Life and Ministry

Results for the second phase of a comprehensive three-part study of U.S. parish life are being released today. The focus for this part of the research is on the people who keep parish life vital: staffs (ministry and non-ministry), councils, and volunteers. Collectively these are the Church's parish leaders.

In 2009, the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, a Lilly Endowment Inc. funded collaboration of five Catholic national ministerial organizations, commissioned CARA to conduct a series of surveys in parishes nationwide. The first of these was a single informant survey (pastors or parish life coordinators/PLCs under Canon 517.2) sent to parishes to develop a portrait of parish life in the United States today (the full report for this survey, released last summer, is available here: The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes). That survey was in the field from March 2010 to December 2010 and included a total of 846 parishes (margin of sampling error for the survey is ±3.3 percentage points). The second survey, the focus of the research released today, includes responses from 532 parish leaders in 246 of the parishes from the first survey (margin of sampling error of ±4.2 percentage points). This survey was in the field from May 2011 to April 2012. Some of the major findings fro this study are noted below.

Characteristics of Parish Leaders
The average age of parish leaders is 59. A majority, 54%, are members of the Vatican II Generation (those born 1943 to 1960). One in five is of the Pre-Vatican II Generation (those born before 1943). Nearly one in four is of the Post-Vatican II Generation (those born 1961 to 1981) and only 3% are Millennials (born 1982 or later). The average age when parish leaders say they first felt the call to ministry in any setting (e.g., parish, school, hospital) is 29. 


Current parish leaders of the Millennial Generation have answered a call to ministry a bit before the norm of previous generations. Those in ministry now are “early adopters.” If the past repeats itself we can expect many Millennials to be called to ministry in this decade.

Nearly nine in ten parish leaders self-identify their race and ethnicity as Non-Hispanic white. Six percent self-identify as Hispanic/Latino(a), 2% as Asian or Pacific Islander,  2% as black, African American, African, or Afro-Caribbean, and 1% as Native American. This distribution is strongly related to the typical ages of parish leaders and the racial and ethnic composition of the Catholic population within these generations. In parishes identified by the project as multicultural (i.e., those with more racial and ethnic diversity among parishioners) there are greater numbers of non-Anglo parish leaders.

About one in 20 parish leaders were born outside of the United States. One in ten reports their mother was born in another country and a similar number report their father was. Thirty-eight percent have at least once grandparent who immigrated to the United States. Nearly all parish leaders—98%—say they use English in their ministry. One in ten also use Spanish. One percent indicates use of Latin. Two percent report some other language such as French, Creole, Italian, Tagalog, Polish, Czech, German, or Portuguese.

Eighty-five percent of responding parish leaders are lay persons (excluding men and women religious in ministry). Fifty-seven percent overall are female (including lay women and women religious).

Leaders are very highly educated. Nine in ten have attended college or university at some point in their life and more than a third have graduate degrees (35%) and two-thirds have an undergraduate degree (67%). This high level of education may be part of why 97% of leaders agree “somewhat” or “very much” in the survey that they feel adequately prepared now for ministry and three in four said, similarly, that that they were adequately prepared for their ministry at the time they began it.

Leaders are most likely to say they feel “very much” prepared for the following aspects of parish life:
  • Communicating (56%)
  • Facilitating events and meetings (51%)
  • Administration and planning (50%)
  • Collaborating (48%)
  • Providing ministry to others (45%)
 Leaders are least likely to indicate they are “very much” prepared for: 
  • Managing conflict (24%)
  • Working in a multicultural environment (19%)
  • Counseling (18%)

Fifty-one percent say they earn a salary or wage for their ministry or service to their parish. Of those who do, the median annualized earnings for this are $31,000. Respondents with higher education degrees in ministry, religion, or theology earn more, on average, than those without these. Eighty-four percent of those who are paid say there are “somewhat” or “very much” satisfied with what they earn.

Of those who are paid for their ministry or service, nearly one in five have other employment outside of their parish as well. Among those volunteering for their parish, half have paid employment elsewhere. Parish leaders provide, on average, 23.2 hours of ministry or service to their parish weekly. Pastoral ministers provide an average of 26.3 hours. Sixteen percent of parish leaders provide ministry and service to at least one other parish as well.

Most feel secure in their parish role. Nine in ten agree “somewhat” or “very much” that they have sufficient job security in their ministry. Most also indicate they have access to what they need. Ninety-three percent agree at least “somewhat” that their parish provides them with the resources needed for their ministry. However, Hispanic/Latino(a) parish leaders are among the least likely to agree with this statement (76%). Anecdotally, this may be related to needs for bilingual and Spanish-language resources.

Answering the Call to Ministry
Most leaders, 76%, indicate they began their ministry or service to the Church in the same year they felt the call to do so. Others indicate more of a lag time—most often for acquiring formation or accreditation, as well as placement. Overall, the average time between when one feels the call to ministry and begins ministering is 1.2 years.

Seven in ten parish leaders were members of the parish they began ministry in. Those involved in pastoral ministry are less likely to report this (61%). Two-thirds were recruited initially as volunteers. However, those who are currently paid for their ministry or service are less likely to report this (49%). Younger parish leaders are less likely to indicate being recruited as volunteers. This may reflect their coming of age during a period in which paid ministry is more of a norm whereas previous generations may have begun ministry in a time where volunteering was more prevalent.

Respondents were most likely to say the following first led them to enter ministry:
  1. To be of service to the Church (75%)
  2. As a response to God’s call (56%)
  3. A desire to be more active in parish life (55%)
  4. To enhance their spiritual life (51%)
Those involved in pastoral ministry were especially likely to say they did so in response to God’s call (70%). Those not involved in pastoral ministry were especially likely to emphasize they entered ministry at the invitation of their pastor or the parish life coordinator (50%).

A majority of leaders indicate they entered ministry after being encouraged by a priest (53%). Others noted encouragement from fellow parishioners (34%), friends (29%), and spouses (27%). Millennials are less likely than others to note encouragement from a priest (39%) and were more likely to note receiving this from friends (54%) or a teacher or professor (46%).

One in four parish leaders say they were inspired to enter ministry by a specific movement or program within the Church. This was most often reported by men (31%) and Millennials (33%). Among the movements and programs most often cited by respondents are RCIA, Cursillo, Knights of Columbus, RENEW, and Teens Encounter Christ.

Three in four leaders (75%) agree “very much” that their ministry or service to their parish is a calling or vocation rather than just a job. Those involved in pastoral ministry were especially likely to respond as such (86%).

Evaluations of Parish and Ministry
Half of all parish leaders (50%) evaluate their overall satisfaction with their parish as “excellent.” Another 41% say this is “good.” Non-Anglo parish leaders were more likely to evaluate their parish overall as “good” rather than “excellent’ (48% compared to 36%) and more in this group provided “fair” (13%) and “poor” evaluations (4%). Just three in ten leaders (31%) in the smallest parishes, those with 200 or fewer registered households, evaluate their parish overall as “excellent.”

Leaders are most likely to evaluate their parishes as “good” or “excellent” for the following aspects: celebration of the sacraments, Masses and liturgies, efforts to educate parishioners in the faith, and promoting important Church teachings and causes. 
The area where respondents were least likely to provide a “good” or “excellent” or evaluation is in their parish’s effort to spread the Gospel and evangelize.

Leaders in multi-parish ministry parishes were especially likely to provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s sense of community (55%). Hispanic/Latino(a) parish leaders were among the most likely to give their parish only “fair” or “poor” marks for this aspect of parish life (22%). At the same time, leaders in Midwestern (51%) and Southern (48%) parishes were more likely than those in the Northeast (37%) and West (28%) to evaluate the sense of community in their parish as “excellent.”

Others differ on their parish’s sense of hospitality as well. Only 38% of Millennial leaders and 41% of Hispanic leaders provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s hospitality and sense of welcome. A majority of Millennials (54%) say this is “poor” or “fair” (46% “fair” and 8% “poor”).

Younger leaders—those of the Millennial Generation—are much more positive about one of the most important aspects of parish life. They are among the most likely to provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s Masses and liturgies (69%).

Others are more pessimistic about sacraments in their parish. Non-Anglo and PLC parish leaders are among the least likely to evaluate their parish as “excellent” for the celebration of sacraments (58% and 55%, respectively). In PLC parishes, this may be due to these parishes having a lack of priests in residence.

Turning to more specific aspects of parish life, leaders are most likely to say their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at managing parish finances, recruiting and retaining ministers and staff, communicating with parishioners, and educating parishioners in the faith.
Leaders are least likely to indicate their parish is at least “somewhat” successful at celebrating cultural diversity, providing Mass in preferred languages, ministering to young adults, outreach to inactive Catholics, and ministering to recent immigrants.

Millennial leaders are among the more negative in evaluating some these aspects. They are among the least likely to say their parish is at least “somewhat” successful at: communicating with parishioners (69 %), welcoming new parishioners (54%), listening to parishioner concerns and input (54%), ministering to young adults (40%), celebrating cultural diversity (39%), collaborating with other parishes (39%), and outreach to inactive Catholics (25%).

Non-Anglo leaders are among the most likely to say their parish is “very much” successful at celebrating cultural diversity (50%), providing cultural, ethnic, or national celebrations important to parishioners (53%), providing Mass in preferred languages (52%), and ministering to recent immigrants (21%).

There are several sub-group differences in parish evaluations of these aspects related to parish structure: 
  • Leaders in consolidated parishes are the least likely to say their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful in recruiting and retaining ministers and staff (50%). On the other hand, these leaders are among the most likely to say their parish is at least “somewhat” successful at ministering to those in financial need (76%) and outreach to inactive Catholics (64%).
  • Those in multi-parish ministry parishes are the most likely to say their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at welcoming new parishioners (95%).
  • Leaders in PLC parishes are among the least likely to indicate their parish is at least “somewhat” successful at listening to parishioner concerns and input (77%), effectively using committees or councils (68%), ministering to the elderly (63%), providing social activities and programs (61%), and collaborating with other parishes (53%).
  • Those in multicultural parishes are among the most likely to say their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at celebrating cultural diversity (71%), providing cultural, ethnic, or national celebrations (75%), and providing Mass in preferred languages (67%).

About half of all leaders agree “very much” that their parish has undergone significant changes in the last five years. However, most do not see this as a change for the worse with just 13% of leaders agreeing “very much” that things were better in their parish five years ago.

Leaders in PLC parishes are most likely to agree “very much” that significant changes have occurred in their parish (67%). Yet only 4% of these leaders agree “very much” that things were better in their parish five years ago.

Half of all respondents agree at least “somewhat” that their parish is multicultural. As one might expect, this is more common in parishes identified as being multicultural by the study (73%). Non-Anglo (74%) and Hispanic/Latino(a) (75%) leaders are also very likely to agree at least “somewhat” that their parish is multicultural. More than half of leaders (55%) agree at least “somewhat” that parishioners of different cultures participate in parish life together. Leaders in multicultural parishes (65%) and PLC parishes (67%) are more likely to respond as such.

Parish Restructuring
Leaders in parishes that have experienced reorganization in the last five years (i.e., transition to multi-parish ministry or consolidation) were provided with a separate set of questions specific to these events. Of these leaders, 63% had experienced the reorganization themselves and responded to these questions.

Only 22% indicated that their role in ministry changed before or after the transition. Remarkably, these respondents also reported relative stability in a variety of different aspects of parish life. As shown in the table below, however, some reported less support from their diocese. Some also note a decrease in the willingness of parishioners to volunteer and to generally be involved.
Yet, many reported increases in the sense of community among parishioners and collaboration among parish leaders and staff. More personally, nearly three in ten reported an increase in their personal effectiveness. However, this may have led to working longer hours for some who noted increases in time spent on administrative responsibilities, their primary ministry, and on planning and coordination.

Few indicate they received any specialized training before these reorganizations. However, those that did tend to consider this to have been useful. In an open-ended question about best practices they could recommend the second most common recommendation were related to preparation, of which a common sub-topic was training (the most common topic noted in responses was about the need for communication).

In considering what was difficult about the reorganization, leaders were most likely to agree at least “somewhat” that the following have been an issue since reorganization: unhappiness of parishioners (50%), finding enough volunteers (43%), and interaction of parishioners from other parishes (38%). A majority, 54% agree only “a little” or “not at all” with the statement that there was little opposition to the changes brought by the reorganization (just 7% agree “very much”).

Use of Technology
More than three in four parish leaders agree “somewhat” or “very much” that their parish uses new technology and media effectively (36% agree “very much” only). 


Leaders in larger parishes are more likely to indicate this—likely because they may have more resources to use new technologies and media.

Ninety-four percent indicate their parish has a website and among leaders in parishes that do, half report that they provide content for the website. This is more common among younger (77% of Millennials) and female (61%) parish leaders. Two-thirds (66%) indicate their parish provides them with an email address. This is less common among non-Anglo parish leaders (52%) and those in PLC parishes (37%).  

Use of new media and social networks for ministry is most common among the youngest parish leaders. Nearly four in ten Millennials use Facebook (39%) and YouTube (39%) for ministry in their parish. Three in ten Millennials use blogs (31%) and Twitter (31%).

Visit emergingmodels.org to download the full report.

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