Blog

Ongoing pastoral planning reveals strengths, challenges

By Bishop W. Shawn McKnight

With a year under our belt of the diocesan pastoral plan, and even more time for some parishes to be using a parish pastoral plan, the reviews indicate we’re making progress, even with challenges such as a global pandemic.

The numbers are, quite frankly, phenomenal: 97 of the 106 parishes and missions in the diocese are actively participating in the pastoral planning process.

As part of the diocesan pastoral planning process, parishes were asked to review their parish plans and provide that review to the Chancery. The 55 reviews we’ve received have been provided to the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the deans and Chancery leadership. This feedback is enabling us to update and renew the diocesan pastoral plan, especially the items listed for the second year of the diocesan plan. (See diojeffcity.org/pastoral-plan/).

We also need to read the signs of the times as we plan for 2022 and beyond. Those signs tell us it is essential we build on the good cooperation happening already.

Each year, we ask parishes to report on average attendance at Sunday Masses, during the month of October. We didn’t conduct the “October Mass Count” last year, as we were in the middle of quarantining to mitigate the pandemic.

Mass attendance for 2021 is at an all-time low for our diocese. We saw a decline of 24% overall from 2019. This decline mirrors what is being reported anecdotally in other U.S. dioceses and even other churches.

Knowing one out of every four Catholics who had been coming to Mass just two years ago is now staying home is of great concern. It’s not a cause for despair, however, especially since there are indicators that those who aren’t coming to Mass haven’t rejected the faith.

Approximately one out of every four Catholics who had been attending Mass in 2019 are no longer coming to church, according to data compiled by the 106 parishes and missions in the Diocese of Jefferson City. Parishes count the people attending the first four weekends of Masses in October, then average the four weekends to arrive at the “October Mass Count,” which has been taken in the diocese since at least 2000 — except for in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2001-2019, the diocese saw a 29% decline in Mass attendance; the 24% decline from 2019-2021 represents almost 10,000 individuals.

Understanding the best ways to welcome and invite people back to our parishes should form how we implement our parish and diocesan pastoral plans. We can build on what is already happening in our parishes.

Here’s what we learned by reading the reviews our parishes provided:

  • Recognizing communication is essential for outreach, parishes are investing in digital communications, such as websites, emails and texting.
    Some parishes are reconsidering the primary purpose of the printed bulletin. Instead of listing events or other announcements, bulletins can carry information on pastoral plan progress, catechetical or formation articles, reports on the work of councils and other groups, explanation of new initiatives, etc.
    Along with other parish communications, bulletins are being considered as one way to illustrate a parish’s stewardship and to allow its members to exercise co-responsibility.
  • Many parishes acknowledged more can be done to reinvigorate their roles as centers of charity and sanctuaries of mercy. These methods of outreach have been highlighted in numerous studies, and the study previously mentioned suggests this aspect of the Catholic faith is appealing to younger Catholics. The parish reviews indicate interest in engaging with Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. Some are finding participation in ministerial alliances and other community-wide efforts to be fruitful.
  • A strong theme throughout the reviews was a request for formation of parish councils, especially pastoral and finance councils. This is an important aspect of the diocesan pastoral plan, as we deepen our spirituality of stewardship.

Overall, the reviews provide a good report on what is happening now in our parishes.

Can we stretch to think about what we are being called to do?