What do parishioners really think? Disciple Maker Index surveys the views in the pews

| January 31, 2020 | 0 Comments

How welcoming is your parish? Do you volunteer in your community? Is your parish teaching you how to share the story of Jesus?

These are among the questions a survey is asking Catholics to answer as Church leaders seek to better understand how Catholics see their parishes and themselves.

Called the Disciple Maker Index, or DMI, the survey will be available during the month of February. To make the information as valuable as possible, leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis hope every parish will participate.

“The DMI gives us a sense of parishioner satisfaction with their experience of Church in very concrete ways,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said.

The Pennsylvania-based Catholic Leadership Institute developed the 75-question survey. It is a tool to help parishes move beyond assumptions and better understand who is in their pews. Archdiocesan leaders expect that data collected from parishes across its 12 counties will provide a good landscape of the reality of the local Church ahead of the 2021 Archdiocesan Synod, which will help the archbishop determine pastoral priorities.

Therese Coons, the Synod director, encourages all Catholics in the archdiocese to take the 10-15 minute survey, as it will provide valuable feedback to the parish and archdiocese.

“It is available electronically on your smart phone, tablet or laptop, as well as on paper, so it can be taken anytime convenient during the month of February,” she said.

In a November webinar for parish leaders, Daniel Cellucci, CEO of Catholic Leadership Institute, called the DiscipleMaker Index an “enhancement” to the pre-synod process. The information gathered can help parishes and the archdiocese plan for the future, he said.

“Imagine if your parish could know which core beliefs of the faith are most challenging for the 18- to 25-year-olds in your parish,” he said. “Imagine if you knew as a parish, what are some of the greatest faith formation needs if you have a Latino community …. or a Vietnamese community that’s very present. And imagine if you could know what the biggest challenges are for parents who are sending their kids to a Catholic school?”

CLI designed the survey six years ago with input from bishops, pastors and lay Church leaders. It provides the opportunity for parishioners to reflect on two things: their personal spiritual growth and engagement with the parish. It is presented in a multiple-choice format and takes 10-15 minutes to complete. It is open to all Catholics in the archdiocese from Feb. 1 to March 1.

Synod leaders want to make clear that the DMI is meant to supplement and not replace the information gathered at the Prayer and Listening Events underway. The survey and the Prayer and Listening Events are quite different, Coons said.

“The Prayer and Listening Events are the primary source of feedback for the Synod and give the faithful an opportunity to prayerfully consider two open-ended questions: What is going well now, and what are our challenges and opportunities as we move forward together?,” she said. “In contrast, the DMI is supplemental information for the Synod with more focused, multiple-choice questions related to one’s own spiritual growth and what the parish is doing to help you grow. I encourage the faithful to do both.”

The DMI wasn’t something leaders had initially planned to be part of the Pre-Synod process, Archbishop Hebda told The Catholic Spirit, but when CLI proposed it, Synod leaders thought it would be a useful tool.

“This Disciple Maker Index is something that we feel the Holy Spirit just dropped into the process,” Father Joseph Bambenek, the Synod assistant director, said in the November webinar, “because we realize that not everybody is going to invest the three hours of going to a Prayer and Listening Event, and some people may be a bit more shy about saying things at such events … but this Disciple Maker Index then allows for many, many more people to get their input in as the archbishop is discerning the focus areas that we’ll be looking at in the second year (of the Pre-Synod process) that will be starting this summer.”

The survey asks questions in four categories: attitudes and beliefs; relationship and satisfaction with the parish; frequency of Catholic practices; and respondent demographics. The survey is anonymous and confidential, and none of the information provided is attached to a respondent’s email, Cellucci said.

Father Bambenek emphasized that the DMI requires “limited work” for parishes, as most of the work is done by the CLI. He noted that the information gathered might be even more valuable to parishes than the archdiocese. CLI provides each parish with a report on an online platform that allows data to be analyzed in multiple ways. Parishes are expected to receive results after Easter.

The survey has been underwritten by a grant CLI received, so it’s offered to the parishes in the archdiocese at no cost. It’s parishes’ jobs, however, to advertise the survey and encourage people to take it. The more people in the parish take it, the better a parish’s data will be, Cellucci said.

At St. Joseph in New Hope, Parish Director Dean Rademacher expects the survey to help the parish council make informed decisions about its direction.

“We really want to know our community better,” he said. “We had looked at doing a survey, and this is a much better survey than we could have developed. It’s funded by a grant; it gives great data; and it’s a great way of reaching out to your community, also, to say, ‘We want to hear from you.’ Which is what the archbishop is doing also. … He’s modeling listening, and we as a parish are modeling listening.

“So the survey is a win-win,” continued Rademacher, who is also the chairman of the Association of Parish Business Administrators of the Archdiocese of
St. Paul and Minneapolis. “It gets information for the larger Catholic archdiocese, and it gives us specific information for our parish.”

Catholic Leadership Institute is an association of lay faithful that supports clergy and lay leaders in the Church. Over the past six years, its DMI survey has been taken by an estimated 130,000 Catholics in more than 600 parishes in 28 dioceses.

“This is going to be a great snapshot for your parish of who is coming,” Cellucci said in the webinar. “Sometimes we make a lot of assumptions about where people are in the pews, where they might be in their relationship with the Church or with the Lord, and what we want to do is make sure the parish is supporting who is coming in order to send them out” to evangelize.

Cellucci addressed some common misconceptions about the survey. It is the same in each parish and the same one used in other dioceses; parishes cannot change, add or remove questions. It is not designed to gather information about parish finances or to determine whether parishes should close.

It does include optional questions on financial stewardship in the demographic questions, he said, which help “put into perspective who you’re hearing from.”

The reason stewardship questions are included, he said, is that sometimes parish life is too heavily influenced by people with financial means and resources, and the survey can shed light on that.

“Hopefully it is an opportunity for your parish, a gift for your parish to get some insight into the folks who are coming, and who you hope to have coming in the future.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly called the survey the “Discipleship Maker Index.” The story has been corrected.

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