The Synod on Synodality: Listening to Listeners is not just for Catholics

The Synod on Synodality is gathering in Rome this week to discuss how to connect the Catholic church more closely with the needs of the faithful. These sessions are the culmination of listening sessions from all over the world.

In the field of Catholic preaching, Dr. Karla J. Bellinger pioneered the first comprehensive study of listening to young listeners in 2011 as part of her doctoral work. She surveyed 561 Catholic high school students, held focus groups of youth, and interviewed clergy about their needs in preaching. Dr. Ronald J. Allen of Christian Theological Seminary, her thesis reader and a pioneer in Protestant listener studies, stated at the time, “This is the first study of listeners in the Catholic church and the first listener study of youth in both the Catholic and Protestant worlds.” The results of those studies can be found in Bellinger’s 2014 groundbreaking work, Connecting Pulpit and Pew: Breaking Open the Conversation about Catholic Preaching.

The new Lilly Endowment supplemental grant will provide resources to redo that original study of listening to young listeners. The research will ascertain what has changed in the last twelve years in how young people hear Catholic homilies. Hearing their words, the study will ask, “How do we better connect with you in our liturgical preaching?” This longitudinal study will provide data as to how the listening of young people has (or has not) changed in that time.

But it’s not just the Catholics who are interested in listening. The mainline Protestant world is also struggling to connect with those in their pews. Dr. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship (CICW), commissioned Joan Huyser-Honig to highlight Bellinger’s approach so that his faith tradition can learn from her work. CICW has released two articles about Bellinger and listening to the listeners of preaching this past week. You can read those articles here: