To gain deeper insight into the critical role priests play in the evangelization and catechesis of men, The New Emangelization Project fielded the “Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Men Survey” in the fall of 2014. More than 1,400 practicing Catholic men from the United States from more than 1,000 parishes participated in the survey, including solid responses from a diverse range of age groups and zip codes.
The results make a strong case that priests can have a strong impact on the faith lives of Catholic men, and men are prepared to follow priests who lead.
Priests who make men a priority have great impact.
Priests who make it a priority to evangelize and catechize men dramatically increase men’s understanding and practice of the Catholic faith. Today, only about one in six priests are rated by practicing Catholic men as highly effective “Emangelizers.” Those who are identified as “Emangelizing” priests, however, have great impact. Simply put, priests who are committed to evangelize men help to make committed Catholic men.
Men who rate their priests as highly effective in evangelizing men are much more engaged in the practice of the faith; they attend Mass and confession more frequently, read Scripture and pray more frequently, have much greater levels of Catholic fraternity with other men and are more active in their parishes.
Priests rated as highly effective in specific evangelization topics also have a strong impact on the faith lives of their male parishioners. For example, priests who evangelize and catechize men about sin and confession have in their parishes men who go to confession more frequently. Priests who teach men how to engage in the Mass lead men to attend Mass more frequently.
Priests who engage men personally draw men to a more robust faith life. When a priest personally teaches a Bible study, men are much more likely to participate. When a priest regularly shows up for men’s events, men are much more likely to show up for weekly men’s group events. When priests actively support the Knights of Columbus, men are more likely to be Knights.
The priests who actively challenge men to evangelize other men also yield fruit; these men are much more likely to have Catholic male friends who encourage them in their faith life, and they feel stronger bonds of brotherhood in their parishes.
Men are ready to follow priests who lead.
Given that the respondents are passionate about the faith and most respondents feel neglected by the majority of bishops and priests, it’s to be expected that many men voiced strong frustration with their priests. Sadly, the most common response to what priests were doing well in the evangelization of men was “nothing,” and the most common response for what priests could start doing to improve was “anything.” Most priests are neglecting the Catholic men in their flocks.
Men lament the lack of leadership by their priests; the large numbers of Catholic men leaving the faith and the dissatisfaction of survey respondents confirms that current priestly efforts to evangelize men are disastrously insufficient. Men strongly desire to have a relationship with their priests, especially those men who are on fire to evangelize other men. Too often, however, men get discouraged, because they can’t get help and engagement from their priests.
Men perceive some priests to be weak and soft, afraid to actively engage tough issues with a forceful and uncompromising presentation of Catholic doctrine. While there wasn’t a specific question on the survey regarding the effeminacy or homosexuality of priests, some men exhorted their priests to behave in a more manly way.
Despite the criticism that some men leveled against some priests, men believe that the large majority of priests have the ability to lead men effectively. To gauge the level of respect for priests, men were asked to state their level of agreement with statements about their current priest’s personal characteristics.
These results suggest the personal characteristics of most priests aren’t a barrier to the evangelization of men; men have high levels of respect for the majority of priests; men are prepared to follow eight out of 10 priests. It’s clear that men strongly desire their priests to lead, and priests who lead can be assured many men will follow.
Despite the well-documented Catholic “man crisis,” the survey offers real hope that men can be drawn back to the Church. “Emangelizing” priests who make it a personal priority to evangelize Catholic men have a significant impact on the faith lives of their men. The large majority of priests have the personal leadership characteristics men respect, and men will follow priests who lead.
What’s needed now is not dramatic new spending or programs but, rather, the commitment of bishops and priests to personally engage men on a regular basis.
“Emangelizing” bishops and priests make committed Catholic men.
Author’s Note: Previous published in a slightly different form in The National Catholic Register.