Typically, the time between now and Thanksgiving is when a large number of Catholic parishes in the United States and Canada will conduct their Annual Stewardship Renewal. And, for our parish clients, Fall is the season when we conduct a majority of them, as well. So, since many of the readers of this blog are in “Stewardship Renewal Mode,” I thought it would be good to touch on the need for consistency of message.
From my experience in working with client parishes during their annual renewal process, it’s easy to get off track and off message due to the needs of the parish. Whether the offertory is below budget, or the staff is too overwhelmed with day-to-day operations and needs more volunteer assistance, or expenses have increased ahead of what has been budgeted, it is not unusual to see the leaders in the parish want to use the Annual Stewardship Renewal — the time when we invite parishioners to make annual commitments in Time, Talent, and Treasure — as an opportunity to “solve” one or another of the parishes problems.
The problem with this is that, in the long run, this never works. There may be a bump here or there when you focus on the parish’s need to “get” from parishioners for whatever good reason there is at the time, but it never lasts.
So, what does last?
Parishioners having an ongoing conversion in their hearts — to continually take steps in their personal lives to grow closer to Christ — is what lasts. This is what results in parishes experiencing growth in any area of parish life, and this should be the only reason a parish conducts an Annual Stewardship Renewal. The goal of the Renewal is to facilitate an annual process through which we invite parishioners to review where they are, take a step forward in their faith life, and to put more trust in God — to trust that He loves them and that He will take care of them.
As parishioners take these steps — making more time to spend with God in daily prayer, returning to Mass and to His Church, spending more time with our spouses and children, getting more involved or less involved in parish ministries depending on where God is calling us, and increasing our financial return to the one who is ultimately responsible for our ability to earn any income — parishes do experience growth in myriad ways.
Each of us needs to return a portion of the first fruits of our Time, Talent, and Treasure to God in thanksgiving for everything that He has given to us. This needs to be done out of our personal need to give back to God in gratitude for the gifts He has given to each of us — not out of some guilt or sense of obligation because the parish needs x, y, or z.
If you want to be a successful stewardship parish, return to this basic and fundamental principle. Stay on message and keep this at the forefront of all of your stewardship renewal planning, implementation, and follow-up. If you do, you’ll be amazed at the results.