Parish Life Begins with Engagement and is Sustained through Commitment

By Jay Gould

At a time of great challenge for Catholic parishes today – innovative, strategic and proven solutions are called for to ensure parishes remain viable and sustainable.  For Catholic parishes to realize a new found era of financial stability, a shared commitment to ministry engagement, offertory support and alternative methods of giving are paramount. 

At the heart of any parish is the faith experience of the parishioner as realized through the Eucharist and complemented through the sacramental, liturgical, pastoral and ministerial offerings within the Parish.  The vibrancy of parish life in all forms is indicative of the charitable support a parish will realize. 

What steps might a parish take to ensure an engaging and nourishing faith experience?  How can this experience meet the diverse hopes and aspirations of the parish while fulfilling the spiritual needs of its parishioners?  In what ways, at what time, in what form and at what frequency are parishes calling parishioners to a sustained commitment to parish life?  Answers to these questions form the basis for determining whether a parish remains viable and sustainable.

Ministry Assessment: Recognizing the old adage of involvement equals investment, the extent to which parishes can offer diverse, yet fulfilling ministries that meet the needs of the times will equate to higher levels of engagement and sacrificial giving as a stewardship way of life.  Assessing the ministries within the parish as to the level of parishioner engagement and satisfaction will be a catalyst for 1) reprioritizing ministries with the parish, 2) streamlining those that may have served a purpose in years gone by but no longer fulfill a relevant purpose today and 3) embracing emerging ministries that speak to the realities of today’s faith experience.  In an age of belt tightening with financial resources – “quality over quantity” is the opportune call for ministry and parish life today.

Offertory Commitment: Charitable support flows not from a parish’s financial need, but rather from a parishioner’s personal interest and engagement, loyalty and affinity.  The challenge of increasing parish charitable support starts with an inherent recognition that the needs of the parishioner outweigh the needs of the parish.  When parishes are able to celebrate the life of their parish – the sacramental, liturgical, pastoral and ministerial offerings of the parish – a new found level of awareness and appreciation will be experienced and resulting charitable support will be realized.  Given the realities of Offertory as the primary means for parish income, innovative and strategic approaches are called for to ensure a higher frequency in giving and enhanced levels of support.  Electronic Fund Transfers, Sustained Commitments and other methods of Offertory form the foundation for parishes to realize a consistent and growing level of financial support.   This then becomes the catalyst for short term and long term parish planning.   Indeed, a commitment to parish life is the framework for the viability and sustainability of parishes today.

Advancement Initiatives: Because advancement is centered on advancing the mission, Catholic parishes are called to embrace proven solutions in fundraising methodologies to capitalize on the affinity parishioners have for their local parish as witnessed through the daily faith experience.  The day and age of Bingo, Parish Bazaars, Raffles, Lottery Clubs and the like as sustainable methods of financial support for parish life has long past.  Proven methods of sustained offertory, annual giving, major gift initiatives, capital campaigns and planned giving are long overdue in being implemented at the local parish level.  Innovative and strategic thinking is the pre-requisite.  Literally, the future of Catholic parishes as we have known them for decades hangs in the balance.

Jay Gould serves as Founder and President of The Advancement Counsel Inc. – a national consulting firm serving Catholic communities through enhanced offertory programs and capital campaigns.  Jay may be reached at jgould@theadvancementcounsel.com

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

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