It isn’t necessary to make major changes in order to implement effective parish-based stewardship programs. In fact, many parishes could increase parishioners’ gifts of time, talent and treasure simply by incorporating stewardship principles into such current offerings as parish newsletters and adult-education opportunities, according to Charles Zech, director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University.
Zech was the keynote speaker for the Diocese of Rochester’s sixth-annual Stewardship Day, which took place April 24 at Church of the Assumption in Fairport. Zech’s keynote presentation on "Myths and Realities of Catholic Giving" was broadcast live via the Internet along with several other talks and presentations, including Zech’s workshop on "Common Parish Activities to Enhance Stewardship." Video of the keynote and some of the workshops soon will be available on the diocesan Web site, www.dor.org.
During that workshop, Zech told participants that in a typical parish, the average annual household contribution is $517 and that approximately 27 percent of parishioners volunteer their efforts for the parish. The number of active volunteers and the contribution amounts both increase substantially in parishes that are viewed as welcoming communities, he said.
Zech, who has studied stewardship at diocesan and parish levels for more than 18 years, said stewardship seems to increase at parishes that utilize such practices as having greeters at Mass and presenting welcoming receptions for new parishioners.
"I can’t over-emphasize the importance of your parish being viewed as a welcoming community. If your parish is not being viewed as a welcoming community, think about stewardship — it’s not going to work," Zech said.
Building a strong sense of community within a parish is also key to building an effective stewardship program, he said. Events like parish picnics and pot-luck dinners are especially useful for this because they bring parishioners from all walks of life together for food, fun and conversation.
"You get to meet other folks and develop that sense of community," Zech said. "You have to continually work at building community. If you don’t have a sense of community in your parish, don’t bother doing stewardship. It’s not going to work."
Communication is the third key to an effective stewardship program, he noted. Parishes regularly should share the stories of individuals and families who live out stewardship principles in their lives. Unfortunately a parish bulletin is not a very effective way to share these stories, Zech said.
"Space is so limited, and folks just sort of skim through it. It only typically hits folks that are at Mass that Sunday," he said.
Parish newsletters, however, typically are mailed to the homes of all registered parishioners and usually have fewer space limitations than bulletins. Parishioners also seem to peruse them at greater length, Zech said, so it’s important for parishes to include stewardship stories and information in these publications.
Parishes also should work stewardship into every aspect of their education and formation offerings. Stewardship concepts and stories can be incorporated into everything from the religious-education curriculum to youth-group activities, and from young-adult events to adult-education opportunities.
"Permeate the parish. Make sure it’s part of every element of parish education and formation," Zech said.