Where God Meets Gallup

St. Monica Catholic Church
Photo by Neon Tommy

This article is part of an ongoing content partnership between Neon Tommy and L.A. Currents.

On any given week, thousands of people will file into one of California’s most renowned Catholic churches to participate in one or several of the 10 weekly masses offered. The church boasts a tweeting pastor, a webcast sermon, a gay-community outreach program, a connection to the National Football League’s most recognizable quarterback, and dozens of famous and wealthy benefactors. But does any of that make the world a better place?

To answer that question, St. Monica Catholic Community in Santa Monica, Calif., is partnering this year with national polling firm Gallup to survey its parishioners. Though Gallup has conducted national polls about religion, locally focused polls are a growing trend. More than 300 churches nationwide have conducted similar surveys in recent months, said St. Monica’s Monsignor Lloyd Torgerson.
“One of the questions I think is asked of anyone in the world that we’re in is, ‘Are we making a difference in this world? Is what we do factitious? Is it helpful? Does it change people’s lives? Does it draw them into a closer relationship with Christ?”’ Torgerson said. “We can be doing the same thing over and over and over and never ask, ‘Is it making a difference?’”

At other Catholic churches, polling has shown only about 15 percent of church members are “actively involved” in a relationship with Jesus Christ, Torgerson said.

Questions used to determine the level of religious involvement include:

When is the last time you talked about Jesus Christ?
When is the last time you’ve invited someone to our church?
When is the last time you have read the sacred Scripture?

“Some say you can’t calibrate your relationship with Christ,” Torgerson said. “Well, we’ll do our best.”

Elsewhere, negative polling results have led to changes in how churches conduct community outreach as well as an increase in the number of religion classes churches offer. In general, polling questions are wide ranging and designed to push survey takers toward self-discovery. Torgerson said one of the ancillary goals of the upcoming St. Monica poll is to help people figure out what they are best at and how they can apply those skills in their professional lives and in their service to the church.

“That’s what we have to discover, for ourselves, for our world, for our community,” he said.

At St. Monica, the community includes the likes of actor Martin Sheen, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, and real estate developer Rick Caruso. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady married supermodel Gisele Bündchen at the church in 2009. On a recent Sunday, Torgerson, who counts Brady as a friend, skipped the usual afternoon mass he presides over to watch a Patriots playoff game. Torgerson even posted to Twitter the night before: “Pray for the Patriots this weekend!!”

But all the technology, friends, and donations aren’t enough to satisfy Torgerson. Described by an outside observer as a suit-wearing, businesslike figure, Torgerson requires hard data as proof that the church is adding value to the world. In reference to the survey, he said: “I have no idea what’s going to come of it, but that’s where we are and that’s what we’re going to do because I believe you just can’t continue to do things without asking the question, ‘Is it working?’”

The St. Monica survey is expected to take place during Lent, which runs from February 13 to March 30.