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The archdiocese of chicago

Qualitative and Quantitative Study

Authors: Lisa Avila, Kaylee Harrington, Elizabeth Korda, Tyler Reaser, Cassidy Spearman 

Research, Data & Analytics: Spring 2020


The Archdiocese of Chicago (AoC) serves around 2.2 million Catholics in Cook and Lake Counties, a geographic area of 1,411 square miles. The Archdiocese is divided into six vicariates and 31 deaneries. In the interest of our course, Research and Data Insights, the AoC is looking to improve social media content and outreach for a generation that is online up to eight hours a day. Because of the increasing disengagement in religion and relevant activities, the AoC has asked us to conduct research among their target audience: young adults, ages ranging from 18 to 39. 

Business Problem 

We have been charged by the AoC to determine how to attract young adults to the AoC. AoC is concerned with researching young adult Catholic, lapsed Catholics, and non-Catholics and how current events have impacted their perception of the Catholic church, and influences their intent to participate in organized religious events and activities in the future. Through our research and strategy, we hope to bridge the gap between the AoC and their target audience. 


To produce this report analysis for the AoC, we implemented both quantitative and qualitative methods. First, we relied on statistics shared by the client to shape our understanding of the target audience and current situation. Second, we synthesized the background provided the AoC with a media audit and literature review and found that lapsed Catholics, “Cultural Catholics,” appear most willing to consider reassociation, 40% of non-Catholics find religion helpful to society and there’s a strong need for an aligned digital strategy that resonates with all target audiences. Third, we fielded a survey via Qualtrics. This included 72 questions and garnered 515 responses from people living in the Chicago area. Most questions were asked in Likert scale format (strongly agree, agree, no opinion, disagree, and strongly disagree). Our team focused on approximately 30 questions pertaining to mortality salience, spirituality, religiosity, and intent to participate in religious activities. 



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Survey Demographics 

After scrubbing the data and removing any respondents who did not pass the attention check questions, our Qualtrics survey garnered 515 responses after about two weeks in the field. As you’ll see in Table 1, the respondents were mostly caucasian (63%), heterosexual (74%) and female (67%), largely between the ages of 18-37. The average survey respondent was 27 years old. Almost half of the respondents reported themselves as either another Christian religion or had no religious affiliation. While 35% of respondents identified as Catholic, it is unclear if this includes Cultural Catholics.

Spirituality: Key Findings and Results 

Questions surrounding participant’s spirituality were included because while spirituality and religion can be seen as one in the same,  distinctions are often made. These questions help gain insights into  how spirituality can help the Catholic church better understand and reach out to people who are not currently part of the church.

The following six questions were asked of participants and responses were given in a 7 option Likert scale format: 1). I believe in Higher Power/Universal Intelligence.  2). I consider myself a spiritual person. 3). I see the sacredness of everyday life. 4). I strive to correct the excesses in my own lifestyle practices. 5). I meditate to gain access to my inner spirit 6). My faith in a Higher Power/Universal Intelligence helps me cope with challenges in my life.


The first key finding is that spiritual people are more likely to participate in future religious activities. This is important to note because, 34.5% of the participants who said they did not have a religious affiliation said they are spiritual and 58.3% of  those who preferred not to respond to a religious affiliation, also said they considered themselves to be religious. This is the untapped prospective parishioners pool.

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Another key finding was that of those with no religious affiliation: 15 % said their faith in a higher power/universal intelligence helps them cope during difficult times. While the answer was overwhelmingly, “no,” 15% is still a significant number, considering how often we associate those without religion as non-believers.

An interesting insight was that of those who associated themselves with an Abrahamic religion: 23% said they did not believe in a higher power and 12% were not sure. While self identification can be merely a cultural identification and not one of practice, it is important to note that there may be participants who are not sure of the existence of God, but still attend church services and/or identify with their religion for other purposes. Further research can lend insight into what those reasons are.

The final key finding in spirituality concerned participants, over the age of 25, who indicated that their faith in a higher being and/or universal intelligence helped them through difficult times. This can be one of the reasons why the church finds it hard to reach a younger demographic. Younger people have a larger support system with parents, school, friends, and other social structures. Around 25, people are usually no longer attending university and are no longer living with parents. Work and other obligations can make it difficult to connect with friends on a regular basis, especially when financial and emotional hardships arise. The lack of a steady support system can help people turn towards spirituality and religion.

Mortality Salience: Key Findings and Results

Our mortality salience questions covered topics related to mental health during times of crisis. The question that reflected the most significant results asked, “If my friend was going through a very difficult life experience, I would recommend she/he talk to a priest/Catholic person for guidance and help.” Participants were asked to answer, in accordance, with the Likert scale format, 1 being “strongly disagree” and 7 being “strongly agree.” We chose to analyze the answers for this question from three diverse categories and constant variables: age, gender, and sexual orientation.

The first graph shows results based on participants’ ages. Though this graph only shows ages 29-33, we found that most participants, ages 25-35, are very unlikely to recommend that a friend turn to a priest or Caltholic individual for guidance during a difficult time. 58.3% of participants, aged 29, answered “strongly disagree''; other

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After the age of 25—participants were slightly more likely to be spiritual and believe their faith helped them cope during difficult times.

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participants, ages 25-35,  who answered “strongly disagree,” ranged from 45%-52%. These results indicate that most millennials who participated are unlikely to turn to the Catholic Church in times of need. From age 25 on, when one is generally away from home, we could suggest that they are not making decisions based on familial beliefs. If they are lapsed Catholics, perhaps they have found other sources of comfort, in times of need, and therefore, would recommend their friends do the same.

The second graph indicates that females are less likely, than males, to recommend a friend to see a priest or Catholic person during a difficult time. 41.1% of females answered “strongly disagree,” while 34.2% of males answered the same. It’s also important to indicate that roughly 14% of both genders answered a 4, meaning they are indifferent. The results based on gender could suggest a lack of trust between millennial females and male authority figures, in this case, priests.

The last graph demonstrates answers based on participants’ sexual orientation. The majority of participants answered “strongly disagree,” especially those who identified as bisexual. It is important to note that, although there appears to be a large amount of women who identify as lesbian answer “indifferent,” there were only five women who identified as lesbian who participated in the survey. These results could suggest another issue with trust. Based on the Catholic Church’s views on homosexuality, individuals who don’t identify as heterosexual might feel unwelcome in the church. Therefore, they are less likely to seek help and guidance from a member of the Catholic Church, and are less likely to recommend their friends do the same.

Religiosity: Key Findings and Results

In the survey, only three of the various religiosity questions had significant results. We have included these three in this section. The graph above mirrors an all or nothing mentality, when it comes to answering the question, “How often do parents read a book of faith?”—with the highest percentage of Caucasians NEVER reading a book of faith at: 44.7%—American Indian at: 24.1% and African American at: 35.3%.

Further, the data reflects a spike in those who read their book of faith frequently. This mirrors that those who never or aren’t likely to pick up their book of faith to read, won’t. But those who practice religion will read at least once a week or more. There is not much middle ground;  people are not even “dabbling” in their book of faith, they are either all in or almost all out.

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In regards to the question, “Have you attended religious services in the past 12 months?”, the data mirrors that Heterosexuals have a higher tendancy to go to church and feel more comfortable than those who are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. Only 31% of Heterosexuals say they will NEVER go to church while 58% of Gays pledge NEVER to attending religious events.

Female: It is intriguing that female is over half  when it concerns those who will not attend a religious activity. Male: Significantly less males, than females, are not against going to religious events next month. They are much more likely than females—and have a higher percentage of people who will FOR SURE attend one in the next month compared to females. 

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Almost half (48.85%) of respondents are “extremely unlikely” to attend an organized religious event or activity next month. Almost 15% answered likely or extremely likely to attend an event or activity next month. However, when we asked participants if they will attend events/activities after shelter-in-place orders are lifted and after a vaccine is available to everyone, these numbers steadily increased (21% and 28%, respectively). Across the board, men are more likely to attend an event/activity, especially before a vaccine is available.

We also asked if participants have found themselves more involved in religious activities and processes since COVID-19. We found that males have found themselves praying more, re-engage with church and overall participate more since COVID-19 compared to females. While a comparable amount of men and women (40% vs 38%, respectively) indicated that they have found themselves praying more since COVID-19, men reported that they are participating more in events/activities (25.5%) compared to only 12% of women.  Almost half of all female respondents answered that COVID-19/shelter-in-place had no impact on their participation levels. 

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Intent to Participate in Religious Activities: Key Findings and Results

Given all that is going on in the world today, we also wanted to better understand respondents’ intent to participate in religious activities—including before, during and after COVID-19.  To do so, we gauged how often participants attended religious services and activities, and how shelter-in-place policies and COVID-19 affect participation. These questions were asked using a Likert scale format, so we recommend conducting additional qualitative research (interviews or focus groups) to determine the “why” behind these results.  

We found that there are no differences in past religious participation and intent to participate in the future, when comparing different age groups, sexual orientation, marital status, religious affiliation, location, employment and income, or education. However, we did note that males reported a higher level of intention to participate in future religious activities than females. When comparing intent to participate amongst ethnic backgrounds, African Americans are most likely (22.8% answered likely or extremely likely) to attend an organized religious event/activity next month. However, once a vaccine is available, American Indians show the highest level of intent to go to an event or activity (41% answered likely or extremely likely). 

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Recommendations for Business Strategy 

AoC needs to direct their attention and marketing to those who are dangling in the “middle” of the polls: people who are not a ‘never’, but are kind of dabbling with one foot in and one foot out. These lower percentages of numbers will attract more ‘footwork’ into the church if you are targeting those who are not fully against it, which will then lead to larger church growth—a domino effect. You will also still be marketing to masses of people who are against the Church—but most of the budget and focus goes to those who are in the “middle” to build from there. 

There are several business strategies to push this marketing forward. First, AoC could pursue activities that build higher trust and promote inclusion with topics regarding positive mental health or the value of a diverse community. Second, AoC could also benefit from launching an Instagram page to target and reach the younger generation demographic. Instagram would be the ideal social media page for presenting AoC’s “personal” voice and opinions on current events. Third, for the moderately older generation of 25 years of age and up, AoC could target their audience’s age appropriately by making it known that the Church is there for unconditional support and guidance, if necessary. Last, influencers are always welcome. AoC could instill people, with intent of participating in religious activities, to serve as influencers for others who may be on the fence. As far as influencers go, they do not have to be social influencers, rather actual people who influence people’s choices, decisions, and preferences. 

Recommendations for Future Research


Suggested Quantitative Research

We recommend fielding this same survey in 6-10 months to see if the current environment (pandemic, racial injustice, etc.) had any effect on the participant’s answers. Most people may have answered the way they did because churches were closed. Participants may have also been traumatized and greatly affected in the last three months (when we were surveying them), therefore their answers might have been biased/indifferent/insignificant or not substantial for analysis and market application. 


Suggested Qualitative Research

Regarding future qualitative data, we encourage the AoC to conduct interviews or Focus Groups that test “Faith vs. Spirituality vs. Religion” and better understand the reasons behind belief (or lack thereof) in a higher power. Similarly, since trust needs to be established in order for a relationship to flourish, we encourage the AoC to consider conducting interviews or focus groups that explore what builds trust in religious institutions.  Interviews and focus groups conducted for the purpose of exploring what builds trust with millennials and target audience age groups should also be considered. 

According to an article from the National Catholic Register publication, the author, Judy Roberts, discussed the importance of establishing three main pillars of trust: the purpose behind purpose-driven faith, the integration of communication and communion, and authentic interaction and relationships. The younger generation is “looking for real human friendship, but they’re not finding it in the superficial interactions on their smartphones...We’re together, but we’re isolated....There’s a lot of communication, but not a lot of communion” (Roberts, 2019). Furthermore, “It’s not about the program and the fancy events. It’s: Do we have disciple-makers on the ground?...that what resonates with, inspires and attracts millennials is someone who is authentic — not someone trying to be cool or hip”...the younger generation are looking for authenticity in a “glamour and glitz [saturated] world” (Roberts, 2019). 


Regarding spirituality, further qualitative research is needed particularly around understanding why those who identified with a religion and did not believe in a higher power, chose to still identify with their religion. This could reveal strengths that the church could lean on to retain parishioners.



Minimum, Maximum, Mean, Standard Deviation, Variance, and Count Data for Spirituality, Religiosity, Intent to Participate in Religious Activities, and Mortality Salience

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