One of the strengths of the Parish Health Inventory is that it promotes (and even provokes) worthy face to face discussion and dialogue. A limitation however is that given busy lives and various demands the opportunity to get people to drive to church for a "meeting" can be a challenge. As a result even the most diligent exploration of the model will involve a subset of parishioners, compressed into a reduced time slot or piggy backed on another activity. (Like a parish council meeting.)
As a result users of the model sometimes become reticent to push for implementing their conclusions."This is what we (our group) see as our parish's most important opportunity --but we're only a small subset of the parish. We need everyone involved."
How to Engage a Broader Parish Cross Section?
How could a parish eager to build consensus on areas of focus and development build a stronger mandate? Even more basically, how could a broader cross section of parishioners be encouraged to think about the many useful ideas in the PHIM document?
One helpful approach may be available from an Online survey version of the PHIM now being tested by the Parish Development Ministry.
Online Survey Version
As an experiment we created an online survey version of a significant subset of the inventory. We tested it out with one willing parish. We are encouraged by the results.
The survey helped the parish converge quickly on an area of important effort.
For this proof of concept parish the online results helped them to learn a variety of useful information. First, questions about worship scored high - confirming that parishioners really valued their worship life. This was a clear strength to build upon.
Conversely the survey identified the model area "Active Service" as their least strong area of parish life.In addition the recommended good practice "we make our parish known in the community" scored low.
These two findings combined to clearly define an action agenda for the future.
Not a Panacea -- Or a Silver Bullet
The online approach has definite limitations. For example access via the internet unquestionably makes participation by older parishioners more difficult. (See nearby photo for solutions!) And, we're not advocating operating a parish with a gallup poll mentality. Nonetheless the results seem promising. In the case of the pilot parish it served to help generate important forward looking parish wide conversations that have generated a positive buzz in the parish. Some clear priorities emerged.