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.


Who Is Getting Paid for Ministry at Your Parish?

In previous posts (1, 2) we described the budget challenges many parishes face—even when they have more than $1 million in revenue. In this post we look at who is earning income (part- or full-time) within parishes for providing ministry. According to CARA’s recent National Survey of Catholic Parishes (NSCP), the average parish in the United States has nearly six paid ministry staff members (mean = 5.8, median = 4; note there are additional paid non-ministry staff such as bookkeepers, receptionists, facilities maintenance, etc.). Six percent of U.S. parishes indicate they have no paid ministry staff (i.e., using volunteers only), 12% have only one paid ministry staff member, and 3% have 20 or more paid ministry staff.

The two most common types of individuals on paid ministry staffs are diocesan priests and lay women. Seventy-nine percent of parishes have a diocesan priest on staff and 71% have at least one lay woman on staff as well. A majority have at least one lay man on staff (51%) and 30% indicate there is a deacon who receives payment for ministry work on staff (...although deacons are volunteers some also serve in other ministry positions within a parish for which they are paid. Considerably more parishes have deacons who are not paid for any ministry). Sixteen percent of parishes have a paid religious priest on staff, 14% have a religious sister, and 1% have a religious brother.

Overall, three in ten paid staff members in U.S. parishes are clergy (priests or deacons), 15% are religious brothers or sisters, and 55% are other lay persons. Half of paid parish ministry staff are male and half are female.

There are more than 17,000 parishes in the United States. At 5.8 paid ministry staff persons per parish that means there are about 101,500 of these individuals (Note that this total includes some double counting of individuals as some clergy and lay people are on paid staffs in more than one parish). Of these, 66,785 are estimated to be lay men and women (i.e., who are not vowed religious. Also note that some are more formally Lay Ecclesial Ministers, however the survey does not include information about education, formation, or manner of appointment so a specific estimate for this population is not possible with the NSCP).

Although there are more than 17,000 deacons in the United States many are either not paid, are not in parish ministry, or they are retired. Approximately 45% of deacons are paid for some sort of parish ministry. The total number of religious brothers and sisters in paid ministry at a parish is now below 4,000 nationally.

On the topic of religious brothers and sisters, CARA will soon release a first of its kind report focusing on a trend analysis of memberships in more than 200 religious institutes of men and more than 500 religious institutes of women in the United States since 1970. We will have a teaser of this analysis in an upcoming blog post here. Also on the blog schedule is a generational analysis of women’s interest in religious life, a comprehensive meta-analysis of estimates of the Catholic affiliation percentage from American pollsters focusing on religion, a look at religion and science in Catholic schools, and one other surprise that doesn’t need any spoilers yet. Stay tuned!..  

About the National Survey of Catholic Parishes (NSCP)
The survey data described above was collected and analyzed through funding provided by SC Ministry Foundation and St. Matthew's Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC. In October 2013, CARA began sending invitations to 6,000 randomly selected parishes (5,000 by email and 1,000 mail) to take part in the National Survey of Catholic Parishes (NSCP). Stratification was used. The total number of parishes randomly selected in each diocese was determined by weighting the diocesan averages of the percentage of the Catholic population and the percentage of Catholic parishes in the United States in each diocese as reported in The Official Catholic Directory (OCD). This stratification ensures that parishes representing the full Catholic population were included rather than a sample more dominated by areas where there are many small parishes with comparatively small Catholic populations. A total of 486 email addresses were not valid and 68 of the mailed invitations were returned as bad addresses or as being closed parishes. Thus, the survey likely reached 5,446 parishes. The survey remained in the field as periodic reminders by email and mail were made until February 2014. Reminders were halted during Advent and the survey closed before Lent in 2014. A total of 539 responses to the survey were returned to CARA for a response rate of 10%. This number of responses results in a margin of sampling error of ±4.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence interval. Respondents include those returning a survey by mail or answering online. The survey consisted of 169 questions and spanned eight printed pages. A slightly smaller national CARA parish survey, including 141 questions from 2010, obtained a 15% response rate. Response rates for CARA parish surveys are correlated with the length of the questionnaire. Responding parishes match closely to the known distribution of parishes by region. Data for sacraments celebrated also match the OCD closely.

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