7 Characteristics of a Strong Stewardship Parish

September 18, 2009

Stewardship, The Pilot

By Mike Cusick

Enter any parish preparing for Mass and you can predict almost instantly how healthy their stewardship program is.  Did someone greet you with a smile? Do people look happy to be there? Can you feel the Holy Spirit? If the answers are ‘yes,’ you’ve entered a community of great stewardship . . . or incredible potential.

Parishes with great stewardship programs have an energy you can feel. Their ministries are vibrant. Events are well attended. Members have a ‘can do, will do’ attitude that creates a culture of giving and service. People raise their hands rather than sit on them because they understand that their stewardship commitment is their living answer to God’s call to serve. 

(1) A compelling vision builds energy, participation.  One of the more dreary statistics we hear is that 20% of parishioners do 80% of the work, and only about 34% make regular offertory contributions. What are the rest doing? Why do they believe it is okay to sit idle? Parishes must take an honest look at participation statistics and parish culture and begin the visioning process there. Needs, priorities and goals take shape and provide the springboard for the stewardship plan. To get parishioners energized, the people connection is essential. They need to understand what your participation numbers mean, so the message must be loud and clear, “Only 34% of you give financially. Only 15% of you volunteer. We can do so much better!” Illustrating what your ministries have accomplished with existing participation levels helps to build the vision of what you can do and whom you can help with more hands.

(2) Stewardship means Time, Talent and Treasure.  It’s essential to think of stewardship beyond just finance; it’s only one-third of the equation. There’s simply no way to feed the hungry with only a warehouse of food. But add a plan and a few volunteers, and you can reach out and hand it to someone in need. Stewardship is no different. It’s not enough just to give money. Each parishioner must be asked to commit time, talent and treasure as a means of thanksgiving to God. Some will say ‘no,’ but more will say ‘yes,’ boosting participation and income significantly.

(3) Good data gives demographic insight.  Organized stewardship programs keep accurate information on people, ministries and finances. A central system, like ParishSOFT, connects every facet of parish management—stewardship responses, sacraments, family information, religious education, ministry scheduling, contributions—in a single database, so when it’s time to follow up with non-responders or schedule training for new volunteers, it’s easy to determine exactly who they are. Good records and tools are the keys to opening new doors to time, talent and treasure. From their databases, parishes can get any statistics fast, like who contributes sporadically and who doesn’t volunteer. They can then target exactly the right people with appeals that touch hearts and compel them to act.  

(4) Connect effectively, make responding easy.  Parishes that get members engaged and committed think outside the box for parishioner communications. Email and letters with stewardship response forms are great for some families, but others may prefer phone calls and text messages. Online tools are fast and easy to use, and they keep the church at the forefront with all that competes for members’ time. Web tools like ParishSOFT’s Online Giving, My Own Church and Ministry Scheduler increase participation by giving members easy ways to register, contribute, update records and volunteer online.

(5) Relationships, culture of service make things happen.  Communication also builds relationships and strengthens the culture of service that’s so vital to healthy stewardship. In this culture, where people look you in the eye, with a smile on their faces and Christ in their hearts, it’s hard to avoid eye contact and blow past the ministry signups on your way out of church. Volunteer commitments are just the beginning. The pastor can’t possibly attend every meeting, so it’s critical to empower leaders and committees to get things done. When the pastor communicates expectations upfront, he transfers authority and assures volunteers that their work has his confidence and blessing.

(6) Sound financials protect church funds, reassure parishioners.  Families give to the organizations they trust, and churches that use business-proven best practices sustain trust and reduce the risk of wrongdoing with church funds. Accounting standards, independent audits, regular finance council meetings and detailed reporting all promote credibility and accountability. Current contributors are kept onboard, and new givers can feel comfortable that their donations will be handled appropriately.

(7) Keep Christ at the heart of it all with good communications.  To keep the momentum going, market ministries, celebrate successes, and say ‘thank you.’ Acknowledge the incredible spiritual growth that comes from service to God and call people to participate.  Through this process, parishes keep people engaged in joyful participation and nourish the culture of service and giving. Their energy is contagious and makes the presence of the Holy Spirit obvious in all they do.

Mike Cusick is Vice President of Sales & Marketing at ParishSOFT, the leading church management solution in the Archdiocese of Boston.  For more information, please visit www.ParishSoft.com

This article originally appeared in a special “Parish Stewardship & Fundraising” section of The Pilot on September 18, 2009

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