The Spiritual Needs Survey says...

“I am constantly wrestling with the world around me and my own idiosyncrasies. My faith, family, and friends keep me going but I still feel I need some direction -- something I have to do for God but I don’t know what. I feel something is missing and I am still trying to figure out what it is.” Male, 36-50 years of age.

In working with parishes that are actively building engagement, leaders often focus first on clarifying expectations and helping parishioners discover their talents. These two foundational elements of the engagement process are clear and actionable, and engagement often increases following intentional action in these two areas.[1] When parishes consider the importance of meeting people’s spiritual needs, however, things become more complicated. They often ask:

    What are people’s spiritual needs?

   Do people not realize that our spiritual needs are met within the Mass and sacraments? What connections are they missing?

   Where do we start? If we are to build on something that is already present and working in our parish life, what is that, and how do we do it?

The Spiritual Needs Survey was developed with these questions in mind. The survey is akin to a large, international focus group. The people who participate choose to do so. Knowing this, it is important to recognize that respondents are likely to:

   be an active member of the parish who is interested in spiritual growth, or;

   attend Mass regularly enough to have an interest in the survey, or;

   be among the actively disengaged who want to be sure their negative impressions have been heard.

 With this understanding, the insights gleaned from the international focus group may help us identify aspects of parish life that contribute to spiritual growth among our members. We may also identify trends in participants’ hopes and dreams for their parish for the future. While we do not want to focus on the perceptions of the negative actively disengaged, we are offering them an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings with us. We will focus, however, on what is contributing to the spiritual growth of those who are engaged and on what is leading them to engagement, knowing this will have lasting impact on the lives of individuals and the parish community.

 With over 3800+ respondents to date and with participants from every region of the United States and several provinces of Canada, male and female, ages 18-66+, we may now begin to glean insights and address some of what is emerging.[2] Not surprisingly, some of the first insights from the survey bear out the engagement research. Participants’ responses to multiple-choice and open-ended questions help us to see clearly just how important our relationships with each other are. The quotes included in this posting are taken verbatim from the survey.

In response to the question, “What helps you to grow spiritually?” respondents are given fourteen options and may choose as many as apply. How would you respond to that question? What helps you to grow spiritually?

To date, the responses in rank order are:

1. Participation in Mass

2. Daily prayer

3. Belonging to my parish

4. Good friends who share faith with me[3]

In response to the question, "What helps you find meaning and purpose in life?" The three consistent choices, in this order are: 

1. Family

2. Faith

3. Friends

I have often thought I should write a book with that title! Family, faith and friends! What are we to make of these insights? First, there seems to be a relationship between our prayer (communal and personal) and our friendships within our faith community. When our relationships are strong in faith, at home and within the community of faith, our faith is strengthened. Our life takes on deeper meaning, and we are more likely to live with purpose, as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Not only does being belonging to our parishes help us to grow as spiritually healthy and committed people, our focus group echoes the engagement research: the deeper our spiritual friendships, the more we are likely to grow spiritually. And not only does the research demonstrate the role of deep relationships in the engagement process, leading to spiritual health and commitment, our people recognize this in their own lives and experience.

All of this leads us to consider:

   How do we help one another recognize and appreciate the impact we have on one another in our lives of faith?

   How do we draw people into deeper relationships with one another, in ways that seem natural, begin with varying degrees of formality, and include simple yet meaningful conversations with each other?

   What aspects of parish life might be fertile ground for the cultivation of this holy ground?


[1] The ME25 Member Engagement Survey measures engagement within a parish community. For more on measuring engagement, see

[2] The Spiritual Needs Survey remains open for your participation. There is no cost to participate. For more information, link here:

[3] Among younger adults, age 18-24, the good friends option moves into position #2