LINCOLN (SNR) – The Southern Nebraska Register, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Lincoln, conducted a reader survey in February, “Catholic Press Month.”
Father Nicholas Kipper, editor of the Register since 2011, said the level of reader participation in the survey exceeded expectations.
“The Register conducted a reader survey in 1999,” he said, “and more than 300 people responded.
“Since we were able to offer the survey both in print and online this time,” he said, “we presumed the response would be greater - but we didn’t expect it to be over three times greater!”
Only days after the survey’s release, the Register received a special mail delivery: an entire Post Office tub filled with mailed-in surveys. And the mail kept coming.
Nearly 1,000 readers formally responded to the 2014 survey. More than 400 filled out the questionnaire in the paper and mailed it in, and another more than 400 readers filled out the questionnaire online at the diocesan website. Still others sent emails and letters with comments, or called the Register office with remarks.
Students from Pius X High School in Lincoln volunteered their time to enter data from the paper surveys for analysis.
Nearly 31% of the respondents were male and just over 69% were female. The largest age group represented was 61-80, with 38.16%, closely followed by 41-60, with 34.86% and 26-40 with 13.20%. Just over 10% of respondents were over 80 and 3% were under 25. Thirty-six respondents were priests and nine were women religious. Respondents were from at least 20 different communities.
The vast majority of respondents are registered at a parish (98.5%), contribute to the parish regularly (97.8%) and are very active: 90% attend Mass weekly or more frequently; 80% read their parish bulletin weekly; 92% feel “connected” to their parish and 91% to the Diocese of Lincoln.
Respondents participate in service activities (49.8% said “Frequently” and 20% said “Sometimes”) and social activities (48% “Frequently” and 24% “Sometimes”), but many long for more faith-building activities – while 29.8% said they participate in such activities “Frequently” and 22.8% “Sometimes,” many wrote in that they wished there were more opportunities.
Journey of Faith
Trends in reader responses became evident very quicky, Father Kipper said.
“No matter their place in the journey of faith,” he said, “people want to know more about Christ and His Church.”
The regular question-and-answer column “Ask the Register” was listed (84%) as the item readers read “regularly.” Sixty-seven percent listed it as their “favorite,” and 36% marked it as an item they’d like to read more often. Likewise, when asked what items people would like to see in future Registers, respondents listed over and over again “more Ask the Register” questions.
When asked what items helped them grow in faith, “Ask the Register” wasn’t listed as one of the choices, but dozens of readers listed the column themselves: “’Ask the Register’ answers questions I may be afraid to ask,” wrote one respondent.
(In response to the reader who asked if questions are really submitted by readers, the answer is “Yes!” The recent question, for example, about holding hands during the “Our Father” at Mass was submitted several times by multiple readers over the last year.)
Knowledge of the faith – how to increase it, and how to share it – was a repeating theme.
“To be able to answer faith-based questions at work with non-Catholic co-workers and friends,” wrote one respondent, “it is vital to have this information provided by the SNR.”
Other requests were for “practical real-life steps to Evangelization,” or “ways to practice the gospels in daily life.” Our readers appear to be people who want to see faith put in action, and they want to learn ways to do so.
The next conclusion drawn from the survey was a sense of community. Readers made repeated comments with the word “community.” They spoke of Catholic news, issues and events connecting them to their parish, diocesan community and the universal Church.
“I am a fairly new transplant to the Lincoln Diocese,” shared one reader. “The Register has been a great way to know what is happening and what events and retreats are available.”
Respondents shared stories of attending classes they read about in the Register, and meeting other Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln at parish events. More than 86% of readers said they look at the parish ads in the Register, and more than 75% had actually attended an event at a different parish that they saw advertised.
Others credited feature stories and reflections rather than specific events to encouraging the sense of diocesan community.
“(I realize) I am not alone,” wrote one respondent. “Others have similar difficulties and joys.”
What should we do better?
The Register collected a multitude of ideas for items readers would like to see implemented or expanded in future issues – many are shared on the accompanying graphic. The utilization of digital resources and social media – while not a part of all readers’ lives – are also explained on those pages.
Readers asked other good questions about specific improvements to the Register.
The most frequent concern is delivery of the paper. The Register is printed in Lincoln. Because the US Post Office changed Lincoln mailing procedures in 2012, and required that all mail be routed through Omaha, the Register papers are driven by truck to Omaha to be mailed there, skipping one step in the process to speed delivery. Unfortunately, some communities’ delivery continues to be delayed.