As the leaders of a stewardship parish, we are charged to foster a community of disciples. It is not as though as the leaders we must simply direct our fellow parishioners as to what they ought to do. Rather, we are called to serve them, to help them grow in faith, and to help them better serve the Lord. We want our parish to be thriving. We want stewardship to be lived out in the lives of our parishioners and, in turn, for stewardship to fuel everything we do as a parish. But this does not begin with some abstract idea about how stewardship should be lived at our particular parishes. Rather, it begins with the God-given gifts of our parishioners.
True, stewardship does have a definitive nature as the way of life of a Christian disciple, but the way in which stewardship is lived out will vary from parish to parish, from person to person. So, how do we lead our parish in the stewardship way of life? How do we properly encourage our parishioners to live as Christ’s disciples? How are we to know how best stewardship can be lived out within our parish community?
We must begin with a parish survey.
Asking parishioners to honestly evaluate our parish and their places within our parish family will help us to know how to best serve them. Msgr. Thomas McGread, the renowned stewardship pioneer, calls it a kind of reverse psychology. “So often in the past parishioners have been told what they needed, whereas, in reality, maybe they (one particular need or another) have nothing to do with the particular parishioners,” Msgr. explains. Conducting a parish survey allows the leaders to gain an understanding of the parish from the parishioners’ perspective – who they are and what they need. Then, after evaluating the parishioners’ responses, we can begin to establish a stewardship parish, together offering our gifts to the Lord in the most customized way – forming ministries, events and more based on our needs.
It is important that we not only conduct surveys, but that we conduct comprehensive surveys with carefully crafted questions. The surveys should address every aspect of parish life, asking parishioners about the positives and negatives therein. Meanwhile, the careful wording of the questions should aim to not only solicit honest responses from parishioners, but, at the same time, to educate them about the life of the parish and the truths of our faith. They need to know that the parish is their family, here to serve them and bring them each closer to Christ. We want to make sure that we obtain a complete and an accurate assessment of our parish on the part of our parishioners.
Even more, noting that our constant concern is bringing the parishioners closer to Christ, surveys should not be given only to those who are already actively involved in the parish. Those parishioners who do not regularly take part in our parish life should have a voice too. After all, we want them to come closer to Christ as well, and their honest responses are apt to show us ways in which we can help them grow in faith and encourage them to get more actively involved. After all, it may be because of their personal perceptions of our parish that they are not more heavily involved. How can we know that without asking them?
Not only should we ask each and every parishioner for their opinion, educating them about the life of the Church, in order for the surveys to truly affect our parish, we have to evaluate every parishioner’s answer to every question, recognizing that this is their parish and it is for each and every one of them that the Church exists. Then, based on the individual survey responses, we need to devise a plan for our parish’s future. Parishioners have told us what they need and want. They have also acknowledged the positives and negatives of our present parish life. How then should we proceed?
Once we have analyzed the parishioners’ responses and prioritized our future actions, we need to publicize both the responses and the impending plans for all parishioners. It is, after all, their parish. It is for them that we conducted the survey and it is for them that we are planning for the future. And they need to know that.
Then, together as a parish family, we will grow as disciples of Christ.
Msgr. McGread remembers when he conducted his first parish survey at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Wichita. The survey really opened his eyes to the needs of the parish, and he and his leaders were them able to use the information to direct the growth of the parish programs, facilities, and activities. And, as he explains, St. Francis’ parish life strengthened by leaps and bounds, because “when the parishioners make the decision that these are the needs of the particular community, then they will respond to it.”
Volunteerism will increase, the parishioners’ feelings of ownership in the parish will increase, and the parish will more properly serve Christ in the world.