Survey results show similar opinions on effectiveness of faith formation programs
By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
According to a recent survey, unique but interrelated groups of adults and youths appear to be in agreement about the strengths and weaknesses of adolescent faith formation in the Diocese of Davenport.
The survey was not an attempt to do a scientific study, said Don Boucher, director of the diocesan Faith Formation Office. “We wanted to see what we could initially find out from pastoral leaders, ministry leaders and young people that might tell us, as we move forward, about our effectiveness, key issues we face, similarities and differences between groups and how much change we think we really need.”
Boucher shared the survey data and analysis with clergy and adult faith formation leaders during a May 4 workshop at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. The survey reflected the opinions of approximately 31 pastoral leaders, 50 adult leaders and 595 youths from around the diocese.
The pastoral leaders and adult ministry leaders answered the same set of questions on a 0-10 scale, and Boucher noted that both groups were on the “same page.” In most areas — from engagement to effectiveness — respondents rated faith formation programming as average to slightly above average. “There is a sense in virtually every parish that there is a need to change, but it just depends on the degree of that.”
Respondents were also invited to write their own comments about needs and concerns. Common themes included resources, training and formation of leaders, suggested areas of training, parish support and types of parish support, and how the Faith Formation office can help, Boucher said. “There were also a lot of comments about families — there is a growing sense and awareness …of the need to direct more effort to parents and families. That is encouraging.”
Regarding the youth surveys, about 60 percent of respondents attend Catholic schools. While Boucher was initially concerned that this might skew the data, he was “blown away” by what he saw in the surveys. “The responses from Catholic school kids — many commented not just about the parish but also their school faith formation experience — are virtually identical to what public school and home school kids are saying. That was reassuring to me and also surprising to me. Kids are kids!”
Similar to the results of the adult surveys, youths generally rated their faith formation experience as slightly above average in a variety of categories, from leadership to relevance. The youths ranked these areas on a scale of 0-5. Boucher noted that the youths seem to “generally like their leaders.”
In a written portion of the survey, students expressed a desire for more opportunities for engagement, but also struggled to balance a commitment to faith with school, sports, jobs and extra-curricular obligations. Boucher noted that consequences of missing sports practices or not spending as much time on homework can be severe. “If they don’t go to practice, they don’t play. If they don’t come in when their boss calls them, they’ll lose their jobs. How do we deal with that? How do we respond pastorally to that?”
Boucher said the students expressed feeling personally responsible for their decisions. They know they need to make it to Mass more often, go to youth group and learn more about their faith, he said. “The fact that we know that is good news.”
The youths also expressed a desire for programming that is more relevant to their everyday lives and current events. “They want religion to matter, to speak to them, to offer guidance and assistance in what they experience daily. Many don’t feel they get that from their school or parish, or at least to the degree they are looking for,” Boucher said.
Surveys are continuing to be accepted. The Faith Formation Office plans to send raw data to parishes and also make the survey results available online in the near future. “They’ve been very interesting and helpful” Boucher said.