ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Father Stan Mader, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Waconia, Minnesota, is using information gathered from a survey offered by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis last year as he seeks to share the Gospel more effectively with parishioners.
So are parish leaders in St. Paul, New Hope and across the archdiocese as they cull through their parishioners’ responses to the February 2020 Disciple Maker Index, a 75-question tool on the impact a parish has on personal faith growth and developing community.
The Pennsylvania-based Catholic Leadership Institute created the survey and helped guide parishes through it.
Survey questions included: How welcoming is your parish? Do you volunteer in your community? Is your parish teaching you how to share the story of Jesus?
Leaders of the 2022 Archdiocesan Synod also are examining the data, which includes 28,760 responses from people online and in paper form.
People from all 186 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filled out the survey, with some parishes getting a few responses, others receiving over 1,000, said Father Joseph Bambenek, associate director of the synod.
Those responses were added to more than 35,000 comments from more than 8,000 people as part of the Prayer and Listening Events Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda held from 2020 to 2021 to help prepare for the synod on the archdiocese’s pastoral needs, Bambenek said.
One area for growth appears to be equipping people as effective evangelizers, he said. That is one reason each of the focus areas Hebda has outlined for more discussion during the synod have an evangelistic component, Bambenek said.
The synod’s three focus areas are forming parishes in the service of evangelization; forming missionary disciples who know Jesus’ love and respond to his call; and forming youth and young adults in and for a church that is always young. The presynod process began in June 2019, and Hebda officially opened the synod at a Pentecost vigil Mass May 22 at St. Bonaventure in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Parish-based, small-group discussions on the focus areas are planned for this fall, to be followed by deanery-level meetings and then the synod assembly on Pentecost weekend 2022.
While parishes are encouraged to wait until after the synod to implement major initiatives, the Disciple Maker Index results are providing some actionable items and many insights that are helping lay the groundwork for initiatives that will honor synod objectives, parish leaders said.
“It’s certainly part of the discussion,” said Mader, citing his parish’s 200 responses helping to shape parish efforts to build connections with all ages, evaluate its sacramental training and enhance Sunday worship.
“We predict we are not serving young married families as well as we might,” he told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. “We are assessing that with feedback data and the synod small groups.”
On its website, https://www.catholicleaders.org/disciple-maker-index, the Catholic Leadership Institute says the index’s survey questions:
— Allow parishioners to reflect upon their spiritual growth and discipleship.
— Identify ways in which the parish effectively supports that growth and look at opportunities to support that growth more in the future.
— Provide “valuable input” to help pastors and parish leaders make decisions “and plan effectively.”
— Help pastors and parish leaders have a sense of where to focus their evangelization efforts.
The website says the tool has been used in over 400 parishes in 20 dioceses throughout the United States and Canada, and over 100,000 parishioners have participated.
At St. Joseph Parish, in part because of the responses to the survey, its youth faith formation this fall could integrate more strongly with the Gospel each Sunday, relating the sacraments to ongoing life in the church, Mader said.
Community service required in confirmation classes might include students in those classes teaching a class or two of first-, second-, third- or fourth-grade children, to help the older children solidify what they have learned about the faith while evangelizing the younger groups, he said.
A series of monthly speakers might be invited to share their faith stories with confirmation students and other young people, he said.
At Nativity of Our Lord Parish in St. Paul, the assistant to clergy and sacramental coordinator, Tim Huberty, said the parish received 1,200 survey responses. “We were aggressive. We provided hard copies in the church, pulpit announcements” and other avenues for participation, Huberty said.
The parish learned a great deal, he said, with the school rated highly, but the parish not as well in some areas as leaders thought it might.
“It was a really good measuring stick for us,” Huberty said. With some neighboring parishes scoring higher on worship and outreach, Nativity knows items it can work on, he said.
The parish director at St. Joseph Church in New Hope, Dean Rademacher, said the parish hoped to receive at least 300 survey responses and 555 were submitted.
“There are some things you realize,” Rademacher said of studying the responses. “We discovered our parishioners want more opportunities for growth,” such as small group retreats and Bible studies.
“Some people might look at that and say, ‘You’re not providing everything.’ But faith is not an arrival point. And that knowledge will inform our actions after the synod,” he said.
The data also helps point to some of the needs the parish will try to meet, Rademacher said. While 66 percent of the 555 people responding said small groups help them grow spiritually, 34 percent said they did not appreciate small groups, he said.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic provided other lessons for the parish, Rademacher said. Going forward, more groups will provide hybrid models of faith formation, merging in-person learning with online learning. In that way, “Zoom is a blessing,” he said.
Mader praised the Disciple Maker Index survey as helpful to the archdiocese and to parishes.
“It’s one of the tools along the way as we try to really create disciples,” he said.
Ruff is news editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.