Missing Contributions at the Decision-Making Table

Last month University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio hosted a symposium “Hispanic Leadership and Philanthropy for a 21st Century Church.” All topics were powerful, but one conversation caught my attention as a snapshot of mismatch when it comes to the human capital of young adults and Catholic ministries. Check out these Tweets:

Just a quick qualitative sense of the situation–but an especially interesting one since it addresses not one, but two populations (younger and Hispanic) where there is a perception (and statistical reality) of not being represented in above-entry-level parish ministry positions, volunteer leadership roles on boards and parish councils, and diocesan director/coordinator ministries [except, of course, if it’s dealing with young adults or Hispanic ministry.] We’ve talked some human resource management techniques that could help here and here.

Why is This So Important? Beyond the theological reasons (i.e. Ephesians 4:5 “one Lord, one baptism, one faith” regardless of age or ethnicity and not wanting to pass over spiritual and natural gifts to be used for the edification of the Body of Christ) a CARA study on parish ministers (both volunteer and paid) reveals a number of areas where the perceptions of Millennial generation and non-Anglo/Hispanic ministers overlap, and are significantly different than the perceptions of “typical” parish ministers.

Examples of Differing Perceptions

Only 38 percent of Millennial leaders and 41 percent of Hispanic leaders provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s hospitality and sense of welcome. This is in contrast to a striking 84 percent of leaders as a whole who believe their parish’s hospitality is excellent.

86 percent of parish leaders say their parish does a “good” or “excellent” job at encouraging parishioners to share their time, ta lent, and treasure, yet among Hispanic/Latino(a) and Millennial Generation leaders the approval drops to 72 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

89 percent of leaders believe their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at recruiting and retaining ministers and/or staff. Yet, only 23 percent of Millennial ministers agree the parish is having “very much” success in this area.

83 percent of ministers surveyed report their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at listening to parishioner concerns and/or input. In contrast Millennial parish ministers hold the least positive view of the success of their parish to listen to parishioners and 31 percent of Hispanic/Latino(a) ministers assess their parish as “a little” or “not at all” successful at this.

Finally, when it comes to the vision provided by parish leaders, Non-Anglo and Millennial ministers are a lot less likely to rate it as “excellent” and much more likely to assess it as “fair” or “poor,” compared to others in ministry. visionbygenWhat to Make of This?

One might be quick to conclude that Millennials, Non-Anglo, and Hispanic/Latino(a) ministers are just plain negative–and dismiss the findings. But other categories (i.e. satisfaction with parish, liturgy, sense that older and younger members of staff work well together, social service, etc.) in the study reveal a different picture where these sub-groups are more or equally positive than other parish leader sub-groups.

While I tend to think the calls to ministry across generations are fairly similar (similar in diversity that is!) the perceptions of Millennial and non-Anglo parish leaders differ significantly in areas that are very important for the New Evangelization and parish revitalization (i.e. welcoming, communication, inviting into ministry, listening etc.). This should give us serious pause when we encounter decision-making and pastoral planning processes where these underrepresented ministers are not present. And not just present in say, a parish Q&A session–but at the decision-making table as serious contributors.

Another angle to consider is the axiom perception is reality. I could sit in a parish and objectively name all the great things we’re doing to be hospitable and welcoming. There might be nothing factually incorrect with what I report. However, if a significant portion of the population in our mission field (i.e. a geographic parish area, not just those in the pews) doesn’t experience or perceive this hospitality–then the parish isn’t as successful in this area as I understand it to be. Period. More and more of our mission fields include younger (Generation X and Millennial) and non-Anglo/Hispanic adults, in larger and larger proportions (the highest estimates I’ve seen state that young adult Catholics are 40 percent of the Catholic population in the U.S. and Hispanic Catholics 60 percent–with overlap). This is an important reason to thicken applicant pools for open positions, actively recruit, and write job descriptions in ways that maximize, not minimize, the types of people who might apply.

It’s also worthwhile thinking about ways to better leverage volunteer human capital in ministry as well. The goal is not to have every person employed in a ministry. No. What’s ideal is when spiritual and natural gifts of the baptized are optimally aligned with the needs of our communities for work that edifies the body and spreads the Good News to every corner of each of our communities. This means going beyond, would you like to be a catechist or a lector?

An encouraging example of this is the relatively new Board of Young Professionals (Catholic Charities, Diocese of Joliet, IL). Auxillary or adjunct boards and councils are a great way to build up young leaders and create a bridge between interest/charism/gift and the ability to make a difference. Initiatives like these help young adults get closer to decision-making and leadership in ministry (versus the perception in some places that board of director or parish council membership is for “older generations”).

ESTEEM is another initiative that aims to form college-aged Catholics for participation in parishes–not as youth ministers or catechists–but in ways well suited to:

their intellectual acumen, their innate leadership qualities, their passion for excellence and desire to serve the Church. The project aims to identify those young adults, cultivate their desire for service to the Church, provide a curriculum that encourages their leadership, especially in the temporal affairs of the Church, and offer opportunities for such service, gradually developing a network of talented, actively engaged young adult leaders serving the Church.

It’s not a pipe dream. Be encouraged. We (and I mean all of us–employers, applicants, older, younger, second career changers, fresh-out-of-college, lay, ordained, Hispanic, Anglo, academic institutions, dioceses, and more) can make progress for the sake of the Gospel. But, it takes action and deliberate cultural/organizational change, rather than hoping for the best and continuing business as usual. As Fr. Michael White recently Tweeted:

 Yep. Ditto for all Catholic ministries. Let’s keep on striving 🙂


One thought on “Missing Contributions at the Decision-Making Table

  1. […] Millennials are largely missing from the teams of leaders in many church ministries—what holds us back? Maybe, a better appreciation of what makes a healthy organization and what cultivates effective teamwork is a missing piece. We don’t know how to “talk” about being an effective ministry organization because we lack the vocabulary, and so we default to stereotypes, thinking it’s because of a person’s age, marital status, regional identity, race, gender, etc. that “we can’t work well together” or “we always communicate poorly.” […]


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