The effectiveness of parish strategic plans and parish ministries are best determined by identifying quantifiable or measurable goals. Calling for “increased registrations” is not as beneficial as placing a number or a percentage on that increase. Adding one new person is an increase. Numerical and/or percentage goals are the most widely used in parishes to measure mission effectiveness. The Acts of the Apostles is full of examples of the quantifiable results from the teachings of the apostles and Paul - “some three thousand were added that day (Acts 2:41)” and “day by day the Lord added to their number (Acts 2:47).” We goal set in the spirit of Jesus’ command to “go forth and baptize all nations.” As a Church, we have very high standards for measuring our effectiveness.
Quantity or Percentage of Population Group?
Quantity is the simplest way to measure the effectiveness of ministerial activity. How many sacramental receptions are there or how many children are enrolled in the religious education program? There are parishes around the country which have very large youth ministries for high school students. Some have 400-500 youth on their contact lists. That does not mean that all 500 show up for every event or even half of the events. Those are the number of people who have attended some event and have been added to the contact list. Parishes with those kinds of numbers and higher certainly have an effective ministry. However, how many high school-aged youth are in the parish? A very large parish may have 1,500 to 2,000 high school students on the parish census. This reality puts the number of high schoolers on the contact list into perspective. The parish may only be reaching 25% to 35% of the total number of high school students in the parish. Marketers refer to this as “penetration.” What percentage of the population are we reaching and what percentage could we be reaching with more effective strategies? Using quantities for measurables works but it can also be misleading as well as disturbing to know that a ministry is reaching fewer people than the quantifiable number may imply. Some ministers are shocked when they learn that there are people who are not being reached by their ministries. They have no idea who these people are because most of our approaches are based on registrations. In my younger days, I was blessed to work in a parish youth ministry which had over 1,000 baby-boomer youth involved in activities. This did not just happen. Twice a year, a team of 25 selected young adults called every youth in the parish and encouraged them to become involved and stay involved.
What are some measurable goals to set?
Measurable goals in sacramental areas are obviously difficult to establish. Most parish sacramental trends on a graph look like a roller coaster. What is key in terms of sacramental reception are the trends and the average numbers over a five-year or ten-year period. Usually, if sacramental reception is increasing, that is a good sign. A modest goal can be set. If sacramental trends are decreasing, action needs to be considered as well as setting some goals.
Here are some numbers which may be helpful in this goal-setting process.
Baptisms – ideally a parish has at least twice as many baptisms as funerals. An average of 50 baptisms or more per year is good. There are parishes with 250 or more baptisms per year.
RCIA – Parishes with 20 or more catechumens and candidates for reception are doing well.
Weddings – Parishes with 25 to 30 weddings are doing well. There are parishes celebrating 50 to 100 weddings per year which are usually referred to as “destination” parishes.
Other Sacraments – First Communion and Confirmation are often closely tied to enrollments in Catholic Schools and faith formation programs. First Communions are often the highest numbers in sacramental reception.
A Note About Funerals – As baby boomers age, these numbers in most parishes across the country will be increasing. There is a growing trend among survivors to forego a funeral for their loved one.
Elementary Catholic School and Religious Education Enrollments – Most parishes enroll about 75% of the children in the parish.
High School Catholic and Youth Ministry Enrollments – The average parish enrolls about 50% of the high school population.
Adult Faith Formation – The average parish in the United States reaches about 2% to 3% of the parish adult population in faith formation experiences.
Adult Involvement in parish ministries – Matthew Kelly suggests that 7% of the adult population of the parish is involved in some kind of ministry.
Concerted effort on the part of the parish can impact any and all of these areas. When setting goals, be realistic.
Being Realistic with Goal setting
Several years ago, there was a parish which insisted on doubling all their current numbers as an incentive and inspiration for parishioners. They obviously failed to meet their goals in every single area of ministry. Some dioceses have used a kind of probation process for parishes which have histories of declining memberships and are on the verge of unsustainability. Parishes are given two years to improve their numbers of households, financial stewardship, and sacramental activity by 10%. As far as I am aware, none have met the challenge. Part of being realistic about parish ministry goal setting is to recognize that specific activity must be taken to change a trend or number. Just setting the goal will not be enough. There should also be some sense of priority when goal setting. A ministry which has low numbers should be given a greater priority than one which is doing well.
As you plan, remember that parishes and parish ministries all go through the cycle of “death and resurrection.” What is important is that a parish recognizes when a ministry needs to be given new life and takes action to change the trend and identify the steps, with goals, for resurrection to be achieved.