Are You Talking to Me? A Study of Young Listeners’ Connection with Sunday Preaching

Thesis Project for the Doctorate in Ministry at Aquinas Institute of Theology

Abstract: Stories abound. Studies do not. Discussion about the state of Catholic Sunday preaching is largely anecdotal. This doctoral thesis is founded on empirical research, asking, “What makes for effective connection with young people?” and “How can we apply that knowledge to improve liturgical preaching to that population?”

Five hundred and sixty-one high school students from six regions of the country described their connection with Catholic preaching. In addition, a review of existing homiletic listener studies, sociological research about the faith life of youth, church documents, and consumer behavior research enriched the understanding of what it means for a message to connect. Focus groups, clergy interviews, and observational research further developed that knowledge.

The role of Catholic Sunday preaching in the discipling of youth was not found in the literature. Yet 55% of those regularly attending Mass were able to describe an experience of faith growth as a result of preaching within the past year. Their qualitative responses suggested that connection is open to any adult who is willing to take time and express interest in them. As spheres of influence grow closer to home, this opens tremendous potential for the influence of a connected and caring local preacher.

While Mass attendees rated the person of their preacher highly, they suggested improvements for his Sunday preaching. Surprisingly, there was little statistical relationship between a youth’s faith life and his or her evaluation of the homily. Nor was there correlation found between the personal qualities of the preacher and his preaching skill. Enhanced spiritual formation therefore will not result in improved preaching. Skill based growth in homiletic competence is needed. Consequently, five assessment tools were developed to measure growth within a clergy-friendly and scalable diocesan preaching improvement process. Parish-centered preaching evaluative resources and the design of a workshop on “Creating a Culture of Listening within the Church,” complete the work.

Bellinger, Karla J., M.A., D.Min. Aquinas Institute of Theology, Saint Louis, MO, 2012.

Are You Talking to Me Survey Instrument.pdf

Are You Talking to Me Clergy Interview questions.pdf

Are You Talking to Me, Ch. 1 – Literature Review

Are You Talking to Me, Ch. 3 – Qualitative Responses

Are You Talking to Me, Ch. 4 – Quantitative Results