For many Catholic parishes, summertime means it is time to close the books on the fiscal year and compile an annual report. While this may seem like something of only passing interest to pastors, pastoral associates, or other ministry staff, it is an opportunity to grow in faith through both the process of preparing the report and the messages you choose to communicate. Now, you might be thinking that this is sheer nonsense. But, think of how much care our Gospel evangelists took in communicating Jesus’ teachings on money. Each knew that for his first century audience, money mattered—and it does just as much for those we minister to today. How then can we follow in their examples in our modern context?
- Money is the How, Not the What
Financial resources enable parishes and ministries to be Church—to do and embody the work of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. An annual report that conveys financial data without sharing what impact the financial resources made misses the point. As Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. recently challenged ministers, “material health means nothing for a Church, unless it sets the stage for something more important: renewing the heart and spirit.” Now, it is a good starting point for parishioners to know if the parish came in over or under budget for the fiscal year. At a minimum, communicating financial status creates an atmosphere of trust in a culture where many do not trust the Church when it comes to money. Managing with excellence matters and impacts ability to meet financial goals:
However, a parish that finishes the year “in the black” and able to cover all expenses may be doing so without having the impact the Holy Spirit calls us to. An annual report is an opportunity to move from the (commendable!) starting point of offering transparent financial data (an outstanding example from the Archdiocese of Atlanta) to sharing God’s work among disciples.
- Don’t Just Tell About the Parish. Tell About the Impact of God’s Action.
Hearing stories of God’s action in our world is a powerful means of conversion. Consider the Acts of the Apostles—episode after episode of vivid testimony to God intervening in the world to reconcile and transform. Imagine what the Acts of the Apostles would be like if its author, Luke the Evangelist, simply provided us quantitative data—that Paul made sixteen visits to synagogues, the Hellenist deacons delivered eight pounds of food, that Peter baptized twenty-five young adults, etc. [Note: these figures are completely hypothetical and do not reflect any Biblical analysis.] Yet in many annual reports, the story of God’s work in the parish is told quantitatively, without emphasis on impact and transformation. Or, it is told as a list of “what we did” (that is usually also available on the parish’s website by looking at ministry lists) rather than the more essential kernel of “what happened, what was the impact?” Reports of conversion and transformation in the Acts of the Apostles became models of God’s action for Christians in the first century through today. But, the power of the Holy Spirit is not contained by history. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thes. 5:11). It is hard to be a disciple of Jesus Christ while wondering about what God is doing in our present day, in one’s own community. Hearing stories and testimonies of God’s impact in the parish helps form the expectations of parishioners so that they too will be ready to look for the Holy Spirit intervening powerfully. Having examples of God’s impact in the annual report fosters common language and shared experience—suddenly, the victory is the entire parish’s, suddenly those who may be unsure of their faith or wonder how God works today might become curious, and all know that this parish is a place where (at least the ministerial staff) is ready to talk about such things.
- Introduce People.
Catholic parishes are big—according to a 2010 CARA study, the average U.S. parish includes 3,277 registered members. The annual report is a great opportunity to put faces, to names, to programs, and beyond. Instead of simply describing programs, introduce people. Include photographs of leaders, volunteers, and/or participants and share stories and testimonies. Think of the many individual encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John—the evangelist does not merely give us generic summaries, but gives us names and personal stories so that the power and work of Jesus is more truly communicated. The annual report is also an opportunity to share stories of what spiritual giving means for those in your parish. For many, the parish is just another charitable option—but this is contrary to how a disciple understands and stewards money. By focusing on how money has been a means of conversion in the lives of real people, you can help transform the conversation so that finances become a pathway to conversion.
Motivated to make a change or do more? Check out more detailed tips from: 26 Lessons from 15 Church Annual Reports | unSeminary