Pastors’ parish snapshot survey gives priests a barometer for service

| January 19, 2017 | 0 Comments

In 15 minutes or less parishioners can give their pastors a comprehensive look at their ministry’s health.

With the work of Father Mike Tix and five other pastors in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the archdiocese now has a web survey for pastors to get a snapshot of their parish. After a conversation between Father Tix and Deacon Rip Riordan about the idea, Father Tix gathered a pilot and development group of pastors to form the survey in 2016.

“I think that pastors want to do the best job that they can in serving the people that they’re blessed to serve,” said Father Tix, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Savage. “And this gives a good snapshot of how that’s [going] for them and where could somebody grow a little bit.”

Deacon Riordan, who serves as director of clergy personnel at the chancery, said his office “had inquiries from pastors recently for a means to gather feedback from the parishioners.”

“Everyone wants and needs feedback on many areas, beginning with the question: are you connecting with others?” Deacon Riordan said.

The team that created the survey included pastors with a variety of experience, parish sizes and parish demographics. They included Father Paul Feela of Lumen Christi in St. Paul, Father David Hennen of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hastings, Father Nathan Laliberte of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Delano, Father Ben Little of St. Michael in Farmington and Father Michael Byron of St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul. Father John Bauer, rector at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, also served on the team.

“I just thought it was a great collaborative effort to try to make sure that all of the points and questions that were proposed to a parish would in the end, end up helping the priest,” Father Laliberte said.

Father Tix said the group looked at surveys done for clergy in other archdioceses such as Chicago and Philadelphia. Father Tix said he and the group took the information researched “and our own thoughts and try to make something our own” in forming the survey, which the archdiocese released for use after Jan. 1.

“We kind of got all the bases covered in terms of what the job [of pastor] is,” Father Tix said. “That was the most helpful thing.”

Helpful feedback

The group also had help in researching the project from Julie Meyer, the organizational development and planning facilitator for the archdiocesan Office of Parish and Clergy Services. Meyer processes the survey results and returns them to the pastors for use. The survey has 39 multiple choice questions and fields for comments. Topics include communication, leadership, administration, homilies, liturgies, pastoral care, community building, stewardship and vocations.

All the pastors in the group first tried the survey in 2016, with the exception of Father Little, a first-year pastor at the time. Father Tix said they agreed “that we would all be the first ones before we would launch this thing in any public kind of way” among other pastors in the archdiocese.

“When we endorse it, we can actually say we actually had done it ourselves,” Father Hennen said.

Father Hennen found the survey comments — all 35 pages worth —  particularly helpful.

“A lot of people wrote in written comments,” he said. “They would show me areas where maybe I could grow or where I was not doing as well.”

When Father Tix reviewed his results, he found it helpful for setting goals but also seeing what works already.

“There was a lot of comments about doing funerals well and appreciating that from a pastoral care perspective,” Father Tix said.

He said parishioners also expressed appreciation that he takes time for rest “just because parish life becomes encompassing and there’s always something to do,” he added.

Survey questions about homilies also garnered lots of responses. Father Tix said his parishioners challenged him to “get away from notes a little bit” since typically uses detailed notes while delivering homilies.

“That’s good feedback that I need to be able to hear,” he said.

Shaping future ministry

Father Tix also indicated that no matter a parishioner’s involvement level or length of membership, the feedback still matters. When it comes to new parishioners, he wants to know their first impression. He said having a variety of parishioners respond gives a “good cross section” for the results.

“I think that’s what leads to the good validation of the whole picture — how does a parish life look, and how as a pastor you’re serving that parish life, and where does that need to be challenged a little bit more,” Father Tix said.

Father Laliberte said the survey results helped him discern priorities for his next year of ministry.

“One of the things that surprised me is that some people in the survey thought that I didn’t pay attention to the older demographic of the parish,” Father Laliberte said. “And so, that was very illuminating to me, and [it] kind of has just helped me to be more proactive in seeking them out.”

Pastors can take different approaches to the survey. Father Hennen had the distribution and results split between parishioners and parish leadership. Father Bauer had just 40 parish leaders take the survey at the Basilica in lieu of it going to the whole parish.

Once pastors have received the results, Father Tix said they’re encouraged to share it with someone they trust, such as a spiritual director, as they discern goals.

“They’re also encouraged then to be able to share kind of a broad, broad stroke of what was learned from the survey itself” with parish leadership or the entire parish, he said. Father Hennen shared his results in his parish bulletin.

Father Tix has shared about the survey with the presbyteral council already, and other survey team members have talked about it at their respective deaneries. While the survey has been well-received, its pioneers recognize the challenge for a pastor in asking for feedback, but they see the dividends as worth it.

“It was a very good, very positive experience,” Father Tix said.

Using the survey remains an optional tool for pastors. Father Tix and company could see the value in offering it to his parish again down the road.

“My hope is that more and more pastors will use this on a regular basis to get feedback,” Father Hennen said. “Especially regularly, because I did it once now. I hope to do it again probably in a year or two just to see how I have been growing, if I have grown or if there are areas where I need growth, because as a pastor and as a priest, I don’t ever want to say that I’m done, I’m as good as I can get.”

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