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Merged Parishes Lose Parishioners, Parishes with Lay Directors Gain

Concerned parishioners and dioceses wondering how to reconfigure in a time of priest shortage should read the 2003 National Study of Reorganization conducted  by the Council of Pastoral Planning and Development.  The group surveyed all U.S. dioceses about their experience of reconfiguring parishes between 1995 and 2000. Here are some important but little reported findings:

  • More than 40 percent of merged parishes reported a decrease in size (number of households).
  • Only 14 percent of parishes assigned to a parish director or who were linked or shared a pastor reported a decrease in size.
  • Parishes assigned to a parish director were most likely to have experienced an increase in number of households.
  • Although reorganization often included a reduction in the level of priestly staffing, respondents were twice as likely to indicate an improvement in meeting parish needs as opposed to a diminishment in meeting needs (18% to 9%). Improvement occurred most often where a parish director was assigned.
  • Respondents whose parishes share a pastor or have been linked with another parish are especially likely to say that time spent on administration increased.
  • Overall, parishes that were linked or shared a pastor appeared to have significantly more difficulty than average. Parish directors and pastors in new parishes report less difficulty.

One hundred twenty three dioceses and 6 eparchies responded. Of the 89 dioceses that made changes in parish structures, some 54 percent reported merging parishes, 61 percent linked or clustered parishes, 51 percent established new parishes, 39 percent closed or suppressed a parish and 42 percent replaced a pastor with a parish director (complete study available at http://www.cppcd.org).

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