The Office of Formation and Discipleship offers direct services and self-directed assistance with the following:

Strategic Needs Assessment

A needs assessment is a process intended to help a parish determine their current condition and needs. It provides a foundation for developing or enhancing the parish mission and strategic plan. The process consists of several steps or stages:

  1. What are the most important needs of the parish? A parish is a dynamic enterprise. The issues and needs change over time. For instance, a new parish has different needs than an older, established parish. An urban parish has different needs than a rural parish. Whenever major changes occur in a parish, it presents an opportunity to assess the current state of affairs and provide the pastor with a current summary of the key issues and initiatives. The pastor can then use the needs assessment as a tool in determining the priorities and future direction of the overall parish strategy.
  2. How will a parish go about identifying the most important needs? The brief answer is to conduct a needs assessment survey to determine the current condition of the parish. One of the most widely used techniques for conducting the assessment is a SWOT Analysis.

S.W.O.T.SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

  • Strengths are internal, positive attributes, capabilities or resources that distinguish one parish from another. They can include experience, knowledge, quality of the work, reputation, unique skills of the leadership team or ministries or parishioners.
  • Weaknesses are internal factors within your control that may inhibit your ability to achieve your objectives. They could include a lack of skills, staffing issues, leadership, motivation, competition from other churches or financial or physical resources.
  • Opportunities are external factors or conditions that can lead to improvement, growth, addition of resources or solutions to nagging problems or conditions. They could include training, recruitment of new talent, additional funding, synergies with other parishes or diocesan support, growth of new ministries.
  • Threats are real, tangible, internal or external issues that could jeopardize the parish’s mission or performance. They could include a decline in membership, decline in collections, loss of program funding, loss of key leaders, competition from other non-Catholic churches, natural disasters involving the physical resources, changes in political or social fabric of the community
  1. How should a parish organize to conduct a SWOT Analysis? The parish should organize a committee and charge them with the responsibility to develop and conduct the survey. The committee could be a sub-committee of the Parish Advisory Council or representatives from the parish leadership group. The process would include the following:
  • Initial Survey—ask the Committee members and ministry heads (approximately 50-100 survey participants) to privately list their understanding about the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
  • Consolidation of Initial Responses—consolidate the responses and rank each response by category to determine the leading responses in each of the four categories.
  • Validation of Responses—ask the Committee to discuss and evaluate the survey results to validate the conclusions.
  1. Prepare SWOT Summary—list the top vote-getters in each of the four categories and create a list of needs and/or initiatives, both helpful and harmful. (See example below)
  1. SWOT Analysis—each response requires additional discussion with the Pastor and parish leaders to identify specific needs or initiatives that the parish can undertake and implement. It is only a guide. The final decision rests with the Pastor and parish leadership.
  1. More Complete Strategic Assessment—if a Pastor or parish leadership feels there is a need to investigate further into the needs of the parish, one approach would be to develop and conduct a more detailed survey with a broader parish audience. One example is the Parish Survey used by St. Bernard Catholic Church in Rhode Island. The sample survey can be used as a guide in creating a customized form for another parish.

SWOT Analysis Sample from another Parish

Strengths

  • Pastor
  • Strong Sense of Community
  • Talent Pool
  • Parish Growth

Opportunities

  • Acquisition of adjacent Property
  • Growth in area population
  • Significant Giving Potential

Weaknesses

  • Lack of Communication
  • Limited cooperation
  • Duplication of Efforts
  • Volunteers drawn from same group

Threats

  • Negative Image and Publicity of Catholic Church
  • Perception of Parish as Mission church

Bottom Line: if a parish desires a relatively fast and simple assessment of their current condition, they should conduct a SWOT Analysis. If there is a need for a more detailed analysis, they should conduct a more detailed survey. Either approach will reveal the needs and issues segregated into strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

For more information about these services, please contact the Pastoral Plan Support Center or Bill Clarke, Office of Formation & Discipleship:

Bill Clarke

Experience—Senior Management Consultant for 35 years
Assisted many Fortune 500 companies with organizational effectiveness
Mentored numerous CEOs and Senior Executives
Strategic Planning professional
Phone: (404) 920-7635
Email: wclarke@archatl.com

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