Understanding and action: a local parish case study

How one parish has benefited from the NCLS for over 20 years

Father Jim McKeon is Parish Priest at Epping Carlingford Catholic Parish in Sydney. Between the Epping and Carlingford churches, the parish has eight weekend Mass services, each with a different demographic.

Fr Jim has invited the parish to fill out the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) for more than 20 years. We asked Fr Jim why he thought participating in the 2021 NCLS was so beneficial for his parish.


You’ve been using the NCLS to survey your parish for many years. Why is that?

The NCLS provides us with valuable snapshots of what our people believe and value, and the longitudinal data of trends.

Retention is an important issue. In the most recent results we learned that 10% of our people are new, but we’re not seeing this translate into 20% in 2 years or 30% over 3 years. It shows us that people come for a short time then leave. We need to work harder at engaging newcomers.


How do you encourage your parishioners to fill out the survey?

We promote the survey in advance and invite people to reflect on what they think and value. We remind people to bring their glasses and give out pens and surveys on the day.


Have the NCLS results changed your actions as a parish?

The NCLS results directly influenced the creation of a new position in our team. We now have a New Parishioner Engagement Coordinator.

As a parish we might baptise 50 babies a year. While the church is good at preparing people for their child’s baptism we aren’t very good at doing the follow-up. Unless we actually create an intentional role where it’s someone's job to make those connections, the follow up won’t happen.


Who sees the data and makes these decisions?

The NCLS is crucial because it creates a common language and common data to work from.

The Pastoral Council always sees the full NCLS report, and we use it in the church’s annual leadership day, to inform the effectiveness of our present programs and to direct our course for the future.

We consider what results we want to share with people. What's going to be useful for people to know? What is going to motivate them and encourage them?

It’s an opportunity to say, here is something we've learned—and not just what we observe anecdotally. What can we do about this?

In a big Catholic Church we've got 8 services every weekend. We're not all seeing the same thing. People go to 7.45am and say everyone's getting older, the numbers are going down. But at the 5pm Mass on Sunday night you're seeing young people and numbers going up. 

NCLS is a great way of telling the same story to people who may have varying experiences.


Listen to your local church at any time

Did you know that you don't need to wait 5 years for the next National Church Life Survey to listen to your church attenders?

You can now run a Church Life Survey anytime.

The Church Life Survey is a tool that lets you check in regularly with your congregation, and receive updated feedback and insights into church health and vitality. This includes church attenders’ impressions of church life, discernments for the future and willingness to be involved in church activities. 

Follow this link to the Church Life Survey to find out what the people in your church are really thinking—now. 

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