The good folks at CARA have some answers:
CARA recently asked a random sample of pastors in our National Survey of Catholic Parishes (NSCP), “What is the greatest challenge facing your parish in the next five years?” Each pastor could respond in their own words. These were then examined for common themes and content.
First among their worries is finances. Twenty-one percent mentioned a financial issue as their top challenge. This strongly correlates with the 25% of parishes nationally that ran a budget deficit last year as estimated by the NSCP. This is also strongly related to the demographic changes described in our recent “Tale of Two Churches” post with parishes in the Northeast (32%) most likely to run a deficit and those in the South least likely to face this challenge (15%).
Other issues of concern across the country include a lack of priests and a lack of staff or resources. Representative comments include:
- Priest shortage. Pastor with multiple parishes.
- I expect that this parish will be closed when the diocese finalizes a plan to deal with declining priest population.
- Declining number of priests and deacons, especially those who can serve Hispanics and minorities.
- Priest shortage may cause combining of parishes.
- There is no longer a resident pastor and a handful of devoted parishioners are keeping the Catholic identity alive.
- Staff is part time and turns back half their salary in order to keep the place operational.
- Recruiting and training competent, capable parish volunteers.
- Not having a resident pastor or sharing one and having fewer liturgies.
- The need for someone other than the pastor to provide for adult formation and catechist training and liturgical music. We need professionally trained and salaried Adult Formation Director and Liturgical Musician.
A sampling of other challenges includes:
- In the process of a complete merger. The primary challenge will be retaining the cultural/ethnic identities and the historical traditions moving forward, as well as redefining what it means for us to be parish.
- Bringing three diverse communities together in one parish: Anglo, Hispanic, and Vietnamese. They have evolved into three distinct communities which share very little in common.
- Aging congregation. Nothing I can do about it. Young people must leave for employment.
- Keep the school open. Our families are old. We have to find kids outside the parish.
- Our parish is changing due to an influx of immigrants. The older parishioners are not ready for the change because they see what is familiar changing fast. I basically have two parishes. One Anglo and the other Hispanic. Very difficult to merge the two. We have opportunities for the two communities to come together, but we don’t have good participation.
- Demographics indicate that after high school, young people get as far away from this area as possible. It an old steel town that has not retooled itself and so they are few jobs and basically nothing to do around here.
- The consumer culture is a huge challenge to us. Young adults are too busy for church at this point in their lives. They look for more exciting places. Many of our families are ‘transit’ Catholics who go where it is convenient either because Mass is quicker or times are more convenient. They aren’t engaged or attached to a parish until they want something.
- Maintaining Catholic identity in culture that rejects and openly mocks religion. The secular influence by schools and sport teams and other social events have made the Church far less than third class.
- Parishioners do not know each other.
- Dealing with people polarized on different church and political issues.
- We need to find and encourage people who have a preference for the 1962 Mass to come and join us.
- Keeping up with the integration of technology in the life of the parish.