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 🙂 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!