missionary discipleship

Town and Parish Evangelization

Assessment Tool


The following text is available to the diocese as a PDF for parish use: click here.

How can a parish/cluster assess for evangelization?

We are called to be evangelizing parishes…outposts of the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. That begins in our families and local communities! But every community is different, and parishes need to assess what the needs are. Yes, we all need God. But how we propose God and a relationship with Jesus Christ in his Church should be shaped by who we are trying to reach…not to change God but to offer the goodness of God in people’s particular needs.

How? Pray and make a plan. Pray very deliberately that the Holy Spirit will lead all of you involved in assessing a parish and its surrounding community for evangelization. Perhaps ask the Lord to lead you to see what needs to be seen in this assessment.

Then, you begin assessing the reality of your outpost and how it serves the geographic community in which it lives. Good data helps create good evangelizing parishes.

The main thing you want to assess is the level of discipleship, because discipleship fuels evangelization. It is much easier to assess how many people are attending, and engaged in current ministries and apostolates, and that is certainly not without value. But it is not the same thing as discipleship in every case. By discipleship, we mean people who are intentionally seeking to grow spiritually in their life in Christ, and have an obvious willingness to share that desire with others.


I. Start with attendance.

So go ahead and count the “easy stuff”—

  1. Count registered households as of today. If you can, compare it to registered households 10 years ago.
  2. Look at your October counts for 2018, and for the last 10 years. Calculate a current percentage of attendance vs registration on a weekly basis.
  3. Do the same number crunching (today versus 10 years ago) for baptisms, first eucharists, confirmations, marriages, vocations to the religious life.
  4. List the ministries you have (except a school—later). For example, faith formation numbers, youth ministry numbers, Bible studies, involvement in a parish-based social ministry. Again, compare numbers.
  5. If there is a parish school: how many students are registered members of the parish?
  6. How many students are from families that are active members of the parish?
  7. How many employees…?

p.s. We’re just gathering numbers. There are very good arguments to be made that a Catholic school’s mission is to the wider community. But the numbers will be important in getting a clear picture of the school’s role in the mission of the parish.


II. Next, move to discipleship within the parish.

How do you assess discipleship in a parish? You need to start by asking questions—and gathering answers—in a way that guides you in assessing where people in the parish need to grow. Sherry Weddell (Forming Intentional Disciples) has heard for years from parishes all over the country that perhaps 5% of those attending Mass on a weekly basis identify as “intentional disciples.” But in parishes that have 30% intentional disciples, the change in culture, fruit, outreach, and community contentment is radical (and there are examples). We want to help parishes move from 5% intentional discipleship toward 30%. If helps when you anonymously ask questions like this:

  1. How often do you attend Mass? Daily, weekly, monthly, once or twice a year
  2. How often do you go to confession? Weekly, monthly, every other month, once a year, rarely, never
  3. How often do you pray in a week (outside of Mass and a before meals prayer)? Every day, twice or more a week, once a week, rarely/never
  4. How many minutes do you pray in a typical day? One hour or more, about 30 minutes, about 15 minutes, a couple of minutes, none
  5. How deep is your prayer time with God? Often deep, sometimes deep, mostly routine, always routine, I don’t pray
  6. Would you say your prayer life has gotten deeper in the past 10 years? Rate on a scale of 1 to 5 (1_no 5-definitely)
  7. Have often do you talk about your faith life with another person? Daily, weekly, monthly, rarely, never
  8. How comfortable are you inviting people to Mass or a church event? 1 through 5
  9. Have you considered how God is asking you serve others in the past 10 years? Yes / no
  10. If you are a parent, do you share your personal faith with your child outside of bringing him/her to Mass?
  11. Click the ways of prayer you know how to pray and at least occasionally do: basic prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary), conversational prayer, the rosary, lectio divina (prayerful scripture reading), liturgy of the hours, Ignatian prayer, other
  12. How old are you?
  13. Male or female?
  14. Married or not married?


Ways to do this discipleship assessment (Susan Windley-Daoust is willing to help you plan this work):


III. Third, assess spiritual and material needs outside the church walls.

--What is your geographical “boundary”? Canon law names the parish as responsible for the spiritual life of EVERYONE in that boundary.

--You may think you know your town. You may be surprised. Start with the statistics that have to do with economics, where people work, unemployment, married/not married, and age.

--Statistics: there is a new census coming out in 2020. Look for that.

--You can read the projected local results of the US Census for 2018, and look by town/city name or zip code here.


Short of that:


Now that your appetite is whetted for the hunt of good data, let’s add in the human element:

--Find and interview the principals of the local schools. They will likely have statistics they can share with you if you ask about their students: how many qualify for free/reduced lunch, how many have one-parent households, how many speak English at home, etc. But be sure to ask other questions: what do their students most struggle with? What most concerns them? What do they think youth need in this community? Do different groups of young people need different things, and if so, what? If you pose these questions in the interest of serving the greater community, and share you are seeking as church how to do that, they will likely be very willing to talk. Talk to both public and Catholic school principals (and other schools if they are open to it).

--Is there a major employer in the community? Talk to them too. Begin with the head of Human Resources about the struggles they are aware of with employees. If HR doesn’t want to talk, ask them who you can talk to. Make it in person if you can.

--Is there an under-represented community in your town? Look for a representative and talk to them. Ask the same questions. In fact, see if you can talk to many of them, focus-group style. Under-represented deserve to be heard and making space for that to happen is right and well-appreciated.

--Talk to the millennials. You may have to think creatively about where to gather a focus group of millennials in your town, but do it… and not just the ones who are in your church (although by all means, reach out and have that conversation too. In fact, they should LEAD the conversation with millennials in town).

--Get creative: consider having a booth at the County Fair or a local festival. You can have information about the parish (please do!) but perhaps the point would be “take a quick survey about challenges in our town and get a prize” (holy cards? Cookies? Etc.) and then invite everyone there to pray for the needs of the town at a candlelight service in your parish—give them that flyer, and tell them to come by in two days. And, of course, PRAY FOR THE NEEDS OF THE TOWN.

--Finally, lower the boom: consider going door to door to get to know neighbors. People are understandably going to be hesitant to share out personal information door to door. However, you can simply go by and introduce yourselves as parishioners of _ Church, and leave information on an event happening at your church with a contact number and email. See the item above (praying for the town)…perhaps close by asking them what the Church can pray for in terms of their personal needs or the town’s needs. If it is going well, you can ask for a follow up phone #. And if not, smile and say have a good day. The purpose of door to door is not so much data as much as it is meeting your neighbors, and putting flesh on you as a local church.


If you spend time doing these things, you will have a candid snapshot of the preparation of your parish to do outreach to those who need it in your community, and know what to tackle first.