Engagement in Catholic Parish Life
Building engagement in Catholic parish life calls pastoral leaders to examine current practices through the lens of this critical sense of belonging. Studying the evidence within Growing an Engaged Church, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a programmatic approach, but rather a framework for systemic change.
Small but Substantive Shifts
The shifts to which the engagement study lead are often small, but substantive. In most cases it is not so much that we change everything or most things, but rather, we look to our current practices for ways in which to enhance the engaging potential within them. In contrast to many programmatic approaches, the advice of experienced leaders in fostering engagement is that the parish determines one or two areas of parish life upon which to focus at one time, rather than attempting to make all possible changes at once, and to build upon the positive as well as remediating areas in need of attention.
This is where measurement becomes an important factor. As pastoral leaders we might have some ideas about parishioner perceptions, but until we measure through the engagement survey, we cannot know for certain if our assessment is accurate. Because the engagement survey (the ME25 – ‘ME for Member Engagement, ‘25’ for the number of items on the survey) is based upon the engagement research, parish leaders are provided accurate feedback on the essential factors that lead to engagement. Leaders may then identify areas of greatest strength and those that need particular attention, with the assurance that such action will bear great fruit. Rather than adopting a practice based upon the limited input of a few key parishioners, often “insiders” who possess a certain bias simply based upon their experience and standing within the community, with ME25 results in hand, leaders are able to consider the input of a statistically valid measurement of parishioner perceptions, hopes and dreams. Subsequently, changes or additions to parish practice will be based on objective information and can be communicated to parishioners in this light.
The ME25 requires a substantial investment of the parish’s financial resources, as well as time and commitment on the part of the pastor or a key staff or parishioner leader who will attend the Leadership Excellence training that is tied to the ME25. Because of this, some parishes will study the engagement research, begin to foster engagement in the ways they find appropriate and possible, while budgeting to invest in the survey and leadership training for a future fiscal year.