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Real Discipleship Insights:  4 Solutions for Parishes

The parishes we talk to often share their biggest blessings–and biggest challenges–as they look to us for ways to celebrate God’s goodness and overcome obstacles in order to thrive. 

Some of the challenges parishes face are easy to identify: declining Mass attendance, decreased participation in the sacraments, and reduced offertory. These have a significant impact on the life of the parish, but there are established strategies that parishes have employed that can lead to improvements.

There are other challenges, however, that can remain hidden from the parish’s view. These are often deeper, more personal issues like an individual’s faith journey, relationship with Christ, understanding of the faith, and feelings of connection to the parish. These aspects of discipleship, while unique to the individual, also impact the parish’s overall spiritual health. They are also aspects of faith and relationship with Christ and the church that can thrive with parish support or languish without. In the end, if they are not brought to light, there is little a parish can do to help. 

This is exactly why ACST Catholic developed the Discipleship Indicator. Through an anonymous survey, this powerful tool can provide invaluable insight into the spiritual needs and desires of the parish community as a whole. The first half of the survey asks parishioners specific questions about their personal faith journey, and the second half about how the parish supports them. 

The results of the Discipleship Indicator, including the analysis provided by ACST Catholic, help parishes map out plans to address key concerns and help bolster support for parishioners where they need it most.

Here are some ideas and strategies that parishes might implement to address possible findings from the Discipleship Indicator. These are based on actual test parish results. 

Finding Time

One significant finding from a sample survey revealed that 24% of respondents identified “finding time” as their biggest challenge in growing their faith. To address this, parishes can offer practical solutions to integrate faith into daily routines:

  • Finding Time for Faith: Proactively provide tips for busy families on incorporating prayer, scripture reading, and other Catholic faith practices into their daily lives. Push these tips directly to their phones or offer them as regular, scheduled emails, perhaps weekly).
  • Daily Faith Practices: Provide materials such as prayer cards, daily devotionals, or smartphone apps that offer short, manageable faith activities for busy individuals and families.
  • Family Faith Kits: Distribute kits that include activities and resources for families to engage in faith together at home, making it a part of their everyday life. One example is a kit that encourages liturgical living. 

What the Church Teaches and Why

In one Discipleship Indicator sample, a significant number of parishioners indicated that questions about church teachings were the biggest challenge to growing in their faith. To break down this barrier, Parishes can create environments for education, open dialogue, and deeper understanding.

  • Informative Talks and Roundtables: Organize sessions with dynamic speakers who can explain and discuss church teachings in an engaging way. Roundtable discussions with priests or deacons can facilitate open conversations where parishioners feel comfortable asking questions and expressing concerns.
  • Faith Education Series: Develop a series of educational talks or courses that delve into specific church teachings, providing a thorough and accessible understanding.

Fostering Growth in Faith

The Discipleship Indicator identifies the areas where parishioners wish to grow in their faith. In our sample study, for instance, over 50% of respondents expressed a desire to grow in prayer, 42% wanted to grow in serving those in need, and 41% said they wanted to read the Bible more.

  • Prayer
    • Send prayer intentions, reminders, and resources via your ChMS.
    • Host prayer groups or virtual prayer meetings to foster a sense of community and shared spiritual growth.
  • Serving the Community
    • Create regular, meaningful volunteer opportunities within the parish and the wider community.
    • Promote service projects that address local needs and engage parishioners in acts of charity.
  • Bible Study
    • Offer Bible study groups, both in-person and online.
    • Provide a “through the year” reading schedule and have parishioners sign up to read along with each other and the parish priest or deacon. 

Deepening the Relationship with Christ

The Discipleship Indicator includes a question that asks respondents to describe their relationship with Jesus Christ as “family,” “close friends,” “casual friends,” “distant,” or “don’t have one.”  The results can point to a need to nurture a closer relationship with Christ as a parish. These are just some ways parishes can offer support and encouragement, creating opportunities for encounters with Christ.

  • Increase opportunities for Adoration, encouraging parishioners to spend time in contemplation and prayer.
  • Encourage greater family participation in sacrament preparation, making it a communal and deeply personal experience.
  • Push daily Gospel reflections via email or social media, helping parishioners start their day with scripture and reflection.
  • Distribute pocket-sized books of the Gospels and Psalms to encourage daily scripture reading.

By leveraging the insights from the Discipleship Indicator, parishes can create targeted, effective programs that address their community’s specific needs and desires. These efforts help parishioners grow in their faith and strengthen the bonds within the parish, creating a vibrant and supportive faith community.

Polly King

Polly King has over 30 years in the marketing and communications field, the last 12 in Catholic publishing. As a convert to the Catholic faith, she has a deep passion for helping parishes engage and evangelize their communities. This led her to join ACS Technologies as part of their mission to serve the Church with technology and solutions that support their ministries. Polly currently resides in Indiana with her husband Bob and their 14-year-old Australian Shepherd, Riley. Her commitment to her faith and dedication to her profession make her an inspiring figure for those looking to make a positive impact in their communities.