Top 5 Techniques for Increasing Giving in Catholic Parishes

As we’ve looked at from various angles, spiritual giving is an essential characteristic of disciples of Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus Christ have been contributing to the church and mission from the earliest days–and it’s the act of sacrificial giving, rather than the size of the gift, that’s always mattered the most.

Once you’re on the path to focusing on conversion and discipleship first, how do you set the conditions for a fruitful stewardship culture?

The Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University provides valuable research into empirical trends shaping stewardship in Catholic parishes. In a 2014 conference presentation, Center Director Charles Zech brought together various studies to present the “five best parish activities” for positively impacting giving.

#1 — Open Parish Forum to Discuss Finances and Budget (29% increase)

Having an open forum to discuss finances and annual budgets results in a 29% increase in giving. Why? I think it’s due to a sense of ownership and transparency. Parish finances aren’t the sole responsibility of the pastor, business manager, or finance council–every baptized believer has the duty and responsibility to care about how the community’s resources are being used for the mission of the Church in this world. Ownership begets ownership. When missionary disciples in a parish are treated as relevant to financial/budgetary discussions, then these same disciples look to the parish as relevant to their own work of spiritual giving. The ability to manage communications content and media to create and share such forums is an important competency for ministerial leaders (while not specific to budget–check out how Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, MI not only hosts a “town hall” parish meeting, but makes the presentations and Q&A public via video).

#2 — Preach Tithing (27% increase)

Tithing is a framework for spiritual giving that involves discernment and commitment to give a set percentage of one’s income. I so rarely hear about it in Catholic preaching (see here and #7 here for some exceptions). Preaching tithing is not about fundraising. And, it’s certainly not about guilt trips. It’s about breaking open God’s Word so that the assembly is transformed by hearing how God’s plan has always been for His followers to consider material goods/resources a gift from which a portion must be first given back to God. Giving is a part of one’s worship, thanksgiving, praise, and spirituality as a whole–nothing less! Preaching is a critical means through which ministers lead a body of believers to a common vision and demonstrate what’s important for the whole church. From the Sunday Eucharistic homily to weekday night preaching after a potluck dinner, the message matters. If spiritual giving matters, it should make it into preaching messages.

#3 + #5 — Stewardship Committee [for 7 years or more] and Separate Stewardship Committee¬† (27% and 22% increases, respectively)

Now we’re getting into organizational techniques. Zech’s research synthesis shows that having a Stewardship Committee that’s separate from the parish council (or Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Advisory Council, etc.) and also separate from the Finance Council matters. Zech notes that the separation from the Finance Council is important because it shows that Stewardship isn’t some churchy-euphanism for fundraising, and in fact goes beyond financial resources. I’d guess that the greater impact of Stewardship Committees apart from a Parish Council is a result of difficulty translating vision and execution between two council/committees. And, the increased opportunities for synergy with other leadership circles in the parish (i.e. faith formation leaders, etc.) However, even slightly more important than how the Stewardship Committee is organized, is it’s presence and longevity. So ūüôā stick with it! No technique is a silver-bullet, and sustainable long-term improvements are more important than taking a quick/easy financial gain that sacrifices the bigger picture.

#4 — Communicate on Stewardship Through a Parish Newsletter (23%)

The take-away here is less about a “newsletter” (per se) and more about the idea of regular communications, rooted in the ownership and discipleship culture so important to the entire endeavor. Newsletters might be the most effective form of communication in many parishes today, but this will vary tremendously by location and parish culture. Most of the larger and more diverse parishes in the United States would likely need to use multiple communications media to be highly effective in communicating on stewardship. Bottom line, whatever the most effective form(s) of communication is in your parish, use it for providing regular updates on stewardship. Many of the techniques for effective church annual reports would also apply to regular updates on stewardship.

Again, it’s important to remember that fostering the conversion in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit that evangelizes the world is what the Church on earth is all about. Stewarding our individual and communal resources, including financial ones, is an essential part of how we live in the Spirit as disciples.

Research gives us tactics that we can use to operate in a way that is optimal for giving. Think of it as removing barriers–solid management techniques like the ones listed above aren’t (usually!) the cause of life-changing encounter with Jesus or a means for spiritual conversion, but by having the operational basics down, we make sure that it’s not our choices (i.e. a lack of transparency, no preaching on giving, etc.) that prevent someone from growing as a Christian through the opportunity to be a faithful steward of the resources God entrusts to us!


Outward Looking Parish Finances


Awesome. That’s looking outward, and putting your resources where our Catholic theology points! The follow-up questions would be [drumroll] … is this boldness communicated and understood by the parish? By the community? It’s not about marketing to make ourselves look good, but communications to¬†share a vision. To inspire others by example.

Market Well: Lose the Outdated Fonts

We all need to remember¬†this when it comes to¬†bulletins, posters, fliers¬†for events, and more. ūüôā

Seriously, there are probably folks in your pews (even teens) with some real artistic, graphic design, and marketing know-how. Find them and use them. Oh yeah, and leverage the creative-types on your staff. If the bulletin-editing secretary doesn’t have an eye for graphic design, find someone who does and make it a team effort!

Example of a Church of 1100 Members with 65 Small Groups

I’ve written before about how¬†Activate:¬†An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups is a great book for parish leaders and/or planners looking for a how-to guide on launching a vibrant small group ministry.

In an effort to gain more insight into the actual details of what a vibrant, thriving, encompassing small group ministry looks like, I went to the church website for Journey Church NYC, where the author’s of Activate minister.

Here’s what I saw:

1. An informative FAQ page. I can see how this would build comfort with joining a group and answer the basic questions most parishioners would have. It looks like at The Journey small groups start up 3x a year and meet in a variety of locations, with various topics and particular affinities (i.e. women, dads, college age, couples, meal-time groups, service groups, etc.) With such diverse affinities and topics, I really could see how a typical Catholic parish could channel all ministry into small groups (see “Vibrant Isn’t About¬†Busy” for why more Catholic parishes should seriously consider this).

2. Examples of what’s planned for Summer 2014. Here are some of the 65 different groups¬†(each approx. 15 ppl) that will meet:

–¬†General Groups (open to anyone)
–¬†Community Service Groups
–¬†Worship Arts Groups
–¬†Family Groups
–¬†20-Something’s Groups
–¬†College Groups
–¬†Teen Groups
–¬†Activity Groups (running groups, mealtime groups, etc.)
РAnd more! 

There are also “Play Groups” which meet one-time for a social or fun event. I could also see one-time groups forming in a Catholic parish for specific service/justice/mercy events or needs.


How To Do a Parish Phone Census or Survey

A few years ago I was an intern adult faith formation coordinator in a parish. We wanted to launch some groups that would align with what our people were actually interested in, what spiritual needs they actually had. A co-worker and I set out to call as many people as possible from our parish phone book (we started with the As and made our way through the Cs before our focus shifted due to changes in pastoral priorities).

In short, it was a great experience. Why? Because it gave us a chance to talk to registered parishioners, many of whom don’t normally come to Mass or parish events. We asked them some basic questions–what brings you to our parish? what do you value most about our parish?–and were also able to give personal invites to our new adult faith formation offerings. Little did we know, we’d also be put in the position to help re-connect folks to ministries they had drifted away from, “I used to help with funeral luncheons but stopped getting calls about them. Do we still do that?” or new interests, “I’d like to bring communion to the home bound, but didn’t get a call back about training…”

But, my co-worker and I didn’t have a plan to systematically expand this to the whole parish in a short period of time.¬†This article from unSeminary, “8 Lessons Learned from Making 2,005 Phone Calls” gives great, practical advice for how to train a team to execute a phone survey/census in a short period of time, with high quality, standardized results. I highly recommend this short article for any parish interested in reaching out via phone. ¬†

Recommended Books for Pastoral Administration Courses

I know first-hand that many professors/instructors of Pastoral Administration (or similarly titled) courses in seminaries, lay formation programs, and graduate schools struggle to find quality, relevant texts for teaching this type of course.

On one hand, there’s plenty of literature on management, administration, and leadership in general–and a good amount that specifically applies to the nonprofit sector. But, parishes just seem¬†different. So there can be a hesitancy to try to mold materials designed for a different setting into a Catholic pastoral administration course.

But, search no more. There are some books that work well on a syllabus and in various combinations could provide an outstanding base for a course. First up, The Parish Management Handbook, ed. Charles Zech (Twenty-Third Publications, 2003).

Chapter 1 provides an excellent integration of human resource management, information, consultation, conflict management, stewardship, leadership, decision-making, and liability. This chapter shows students (who might think of administration as an “extra” bonus, instead a fundamental skill of a minister) how important good management is and how it impacts theology made present in a parish or other ministry setting.

The entire book is of high quality and relevant updated material. I’d especially recommend Chapter 7 “Developing Stewards in a Parish Setting” and Chapter 9 “Parish Information Systems — Resources for Ministry” as top chapters to be included on any course syllabus.

My next recommendation moves from concepts and theory to action-oriented techniques. Though¬†Tools for Rebuilding¬†by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran (Ave Maria Press, 2013) is a follow-up to¬†Rebuilt (2012), the book can stand-alone as a primer on some basic managerial concerns. I’d recommend using:

  • all of the Strategic Tools (p. 11-34)
  • Building Tools #8-11 (p. 41-54)
  • all of the Office Tools (p. 63-72)
  • all of the Communication Tools (p. 73-88)
  • all of the Money Tools (p. 189-212)
  • all of the Staff Tools (p. 213-230)
  • all of the Critical Tools (p. 231-254)
  • and, all of the Fun Tools (255-268)

Then, depending on the duration and scope of your course, if more material was needed, I’d add in A Concise Guide to Catholic Church Management¬†from the Vincentian Center for Church and Society (Ave Maria Press, 2010).

Now, despite being more recent that Zech’s work, this book feels a bit more dated and more maintenance-focused (rather than evangelization oriented).

Chapters 1-4 and 7-8 are too basic and bland to provide that much value to a course, but Chapters 6 (The Parish and Service Quality), 9 (Evaluating Parish Performance), 10 (Human Resources), 11 (Legal Principles), and 12 (Stewardship) are all value-added.

The Vincentian Center also offers a similar¬†Concise Guide to Pastoral Planning. This book is not very tied into the need for parishes to be centers of evangelization, but it does provide good templates for pastoral planning (especially in Part 3). I wouldn’t really recommend this book, unless your course specifically needed an in-depth discussion of pastoral planning models.

In conclusion,¬†Tools for Rebuilding and the¬†Parish¬†Management¬†Handbook are the two texts I’d most want to see in a pastoral administration course.

Do you have any recommendations for pastoral administration courses or training? Please share in the comments!