A 'Right Brain' Study of the Pews

By Rotondaro, Vinnie | National Catholic Reporter, November 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

A 'Right Brain' Study of the Pews


Rotondaro, Vinnie, National Catholic Reporter


BALTIMORE - "Hundreds of hours" of one-on-one interviews and "thousands of hours of analysis" highlight the "broad communications challenges" but also the "opportunities" that bishops face in reaching out to American Catholics.

This is how a piece of social science research titled "People in the Pews" was presented to U.S. bishops at their annual fall meeting Nov. 11.

The research comes by way of a working group of bishops, chairs of five committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The consulting firm Right Brain People conducted the research for the conference in various parts of the country between 2011 and 2013. Using qualitative and quantitative research, the study aims to give the church in America a better sense of what parishioners of various ages and stripes--some "fervent," others simply "engaged," and others still disaffected--think and feel about their church.

"When we first began this communication research, we realized that we had to better understand our people in the pews," said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who presented the research before his fellow U.S. bishops on Nov. 11. "So we used a right brain, or emotional research approach.''

"Right brain, the emotional side, is really what we're talking about [with] evangelization," Wenski said at a news conference following the presentation. "Left brain, the more rational side, is probably what we're talking about [with] catechesis."

"I think Pope Francis has intuitively understood what the right brain is all about. The church speaks in the language of philosophy," he said, while in "the outside world, the press speaks in the language of sociology, psychology," and that can lead to a breakdown in communication.

During the presentation, Wenski said the study aimed to "identify important research audiences . …

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