Diocese of Allentown Embarking on Next Generation Diocese Initiative

The Diocese of Allentown is embarking on an initiative that will invigorate the Church for the future.

It has partnered with the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), a lay apostolate headquartered just outside of Philadelphia that inspires Catholic leaders to revitalize the Church for a Christ-filled and joy-filled future through a close accompaniment.

The Diocese has started implementing CLI’s Next Generation Diocese initiative, which will offer support for our Bishop, our priests, and our 78 parishes. Planning began last fall when CLI introduced the program to the diocesan priests and people in the parishes known as “Parish Point of Contact (PPOC).”

Now the first of three phases will begin.

Phase one is: Take a snapshot of where we are. This will be done through data collection.

Starting on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, parishioners will be asked to complete a survey known as the Disciple Maker Index (DMI). It includes questions about parishioners’ spiritual growth and engagement with the parish, such as their core beliefs, their relationship and satisfaction with their parish, and their participation in the parish, including Mass, the Sacraments, prayer, and other activities.

The survey will also ask for some demographic information, to determine if there are similarities by age, gender, marital status, etc. – but no personal information, so the survey will remain anonymous.

The DMI has about 90 questions and takes 10 to 15 minutes. It is an online instrument, but can also be completed on paper. And it is available in 19 languages. Priests will also be doing a leadership inventory.

The online survey will be open throughout the entire season of Lent, ending Tuesday, April 2. The deadline for the paper copies will be Tuesday, April 9.

Phase two is: Take the next step in growth. There will be development of pastoral plans for evangelization and priority plans for the next two to three years, as well as individual growth plans and coaching for priests. A “pastoral plan” is the language used by parishes to explain their vision for implementing evangelization efforts in the future.

CLI “thinks that parish communities are more important today than ever before to help bring Christ to the world, and believes that parishes don't necessarily need to change, but can thrive and make updated plans to grow and enhance their parish.”

Phase three is: See how far we’ve come. All parishes will be given the opportunity to retake the DMI in about three years.

“We believe through the Next Generation Diocese process that we will prepare the Diocese of Allentown to be equipped with the self-knowledge that generates and supports ongoing formation across all leadership levels with a distinctive commitment to our Lord as missionary disciples,” said Maria Luby, a leadership consultant with CLI.

There will be no cost to the Diocese. A grant has been provided to CLI for this program.

After the survey, three different support tracks will be provided to parishes.

CLI has funding to provide the Intensive Support Track to six parishes in the Diocese, over the three-year time frame, with individual accompaniment.

The second track is the Virtual Track, an opportunity for 12 parishes to be engaged in a facilitation process virtually.

The last track, open to all priests and parishes, is a Self-Directed Support Track.

“There will be an application process to determine the specific parishes for the intensive tracks, which will be decided in the late summer 2024,” said Maggie Riggins, Executive Director of Evangelization and Formation, and a member of the Diocesan Core Team for CLI to assist with the process on the diocesan level. “More information about the application process will be available soon.”

Others on the Diocesan Core Team include Father Eugene Ritz, Vicar for Clergy, and Father Keith Mathur, Chancellor.

Bishop Alfred Schlert said he is grateful for this $2 million investment of the grant for our Diocese because it “is an opportunity that we really could not afford to pay for.”

He encourages everyone to “approach it with enthusiasm, with openness, and with a desire to truly understand what our people need, what they perceive, and how we can help them and our parishes grow.”

He noted that this survey “fits in very perfectly and I would say even more concretely than the Synod process that was going on in Rome. But this is truly concrete, geared to our parishes, geared to our Diocese, and for our priests, geared to their special skills.”

“The Synod on Synodality was a call to engage the faithful of the Church in ongoing dialogue. I see the implementation of Next Generation Diocese through CLI as an ongoing synodal process for the Church in the Diocese of Allentown. The great aspect of CLI is that there are concrete action plans to implement change at the parish level,” echoed Riggins.

“Through that process, we'll help you to call forth the gifts of those in your community, be it parish leaders or those in the surrounding areas, all with this desire to create a more vibrant faith community rooted in Jesus Christ,” said Luby.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is also involved in the Next Generation Diocese initiative for its 60 parishes. Their DMI survey was conducted during Lent 2023.

Because some parishes heavily promoted the survey to various groups and in various ways – the pulpit, bulletins, social media – they received a higher-than-average response and were given feedback from a cross-section of parishioners, not just certain ages or other groups.

In various parishes, they discovered a need for support in areas such as adult formation, liturgy, music, hospitality, evangelization, discipleship, young adults, and families.

After the survey, parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh created pastoral plans, with priorities and their vision for the parish.

“The value of the DMI is it’s not anecdotal,” said Linda Lee Ritzer, Secretary for Parish Services in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. “You're not guessing at what people say they want. You get hard data that says this is what people say their pastoral need is. That's valuable information.”

“I just want to thank all involved in the Diocese of Allentown very much,” said Bishop Schlert, “and as we look at this, it will be an action of the Holy Spirit, and Our Lord will truly bless us for embarking on this.”


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