If we’re to do well the two things I wrote about last week — help one another to grow in holiness, and follow Christ’s command to “seek out and save what was lost” — we have to be in good shape — “spiritually healthy,” if you will. And just as we care for our physical health by getting an occasional checkup where our “vital signs” are measured, our parish gets a check on its spiritual health occasionally. So this year we’re once again inviting Gallup to conduct with us a “Member Engagement Survey” of our parishioners. It will take place during October, and you’ll be seeing more about it here for the next few weeks. Today, I want to encourage everyone to take part — it’s important that we know how we’re doing as a parish in following Christ. (Six other parishes will be taking part at the same time, so you may hear chat about this from people you know from other parishes.)
Why is this so important? Two reasons: First, we all have impressions of how we’re doing — but those are accurate only for the limited bit of parish life that we experience. And what impresses (or discourages) us, while significant, may not be the best measure of the parish’s spiritual health. (Imagine a person who comes to Mass with his kids for Christmas — only. He finds a parking space, the Mass is short and the kids like the experience. He’s had what he calls a “good experience”; but he’s not spiritually healthy.)
Gallup measures, through its short survey, two things: spiritual commitment (a person’s attitudes and activities that help toward to spiritual health), and member
engagement (attitudes and actions that connect a person to other believers within the Body of Christ). Interestingly, member engagement is more powerful in making a person spiritually healthy: “Belonging leads to believing,” as we say, not the other way around. (When Simon and Andrew are called by Jesus, He doesn’t begin by teaching them: He invites them to “Come and see” and to spend some time with Him. It’s by being around Jesus that they learn and come to believe; and it’s the same with each of us….)
So the first reason it’s important to get an objective measure of how we’re doing as a parish is that it tells us where we are, beyond personal impressions. The second reason is that it will help us to plan our future. Based on its research and on results in other churches, Gallup can suggest where we can most usefully put our resources. Last spring I laid out in the State of the Parish talk some of the challenges that we face; the survey’s results will be a major guide for the parish in how to meet those challenges. Engaged members are the lifeblood of a parish; we need to know where we stand so that we can all do the things that encourage engagement. (Engaged members also have been shown to invite more people to “get to know” what’s going on in a parish — they are the people who say, “Come and see” to others.)
This past winter and spring the Trustees and the Pastoral Council and I have been talking about where our parish needs to go, given the challenges we face. They joined in recommending that we again turn to Gallup as an aid in planning our future. I’ve encouraged the directors of all parish departments, and the priests and deacons, to use the summer to review Gallup’s handbook, Growing an Engaged Church.
Our Lady of Grace has flourished for fifty years and more because we in fact have members who are spiritually committed and engaged. From the start, this has been the source of spiritual health in the parish. My hope is that God’s grace and our work, guided by what we learn from Gallup, will let us expand the circle of engagement to include more and more parishioners. So I’d ask you to let your opinions count in the survey next month and to pray for our parish and its leaders, that we can understand wisely what you tell us and choose a course for the future that will bear fruit.
Until next week, peace. F