Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Study: The Pandemic and Parish Collections

 When JD Flynn, editor-in-chief of the The Pillar, told me that he'd like to have me do some data journalism for the Catholic news startup, my first struggle was with how one even does data journalism about the Catholic Church.  I very much enjoy working with data in my day job doing pricing analytics, but deciding how to price products is very different from understanding the eternal truths.  And yet, as we discussed possible topics, one jumped out at me as really interesting to try my hand at right away: assessing the effect which the pandemic has had on offertory collections at Catholic parishes.

Part of the appeal was that offertory sits at an interesting crossroad: it's a financial subject which one can analyze numerically, and yet it's also closely related to the mission of the parish since tithing is needed to support staff, upkeep of buildings, charity, programs, etc.  Additionally, this was something about which there was no existing data, and yet there was an obvious source: many parishes publish their weekly collections in their bulletin, and many parishes also publish their bulletins online.  In order to measure the effect of the pandemic on parish finances, all I had to do was use online bulletins to collect the weekly offertory data from a reasonable sample of parishes.

Because round numbers are easy, I decided I would conduct a study of 10 parishes each on 10 dioceses.  This makes for a total of 100 parishes, and given that I was looking at collections each week of 2019 and 2020, a total of 10,400 data points.  

The Pillar agreed to pay me for the work, so I was able to farm some of the work out to MrsDarwin and to the older kids and other members of the parish youth group, and we got all 10,000+ data points collected in under three weeks.  

The findings are interesting, and you can read about them over at The Pillar, but to use the biggest headlines for links: The average parish was down in collections by $70k or 12% in 2020 versus 2019How severely a parish's area was hit with COVID had no correlation to the change in their collections, but the level of unemployment did, as did some other surprising factors.  

I hope you'll find these interesting to read, and I'd strongly recommend The Pillar to you if you don't already subscribe.  They do outstanding in-depth journalism on Catholic topics.

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