In my experience over the past 15 years in working with parishes across the country to develop stewardship, I have found that parishes should not utilize traditional business models to successfully run their parishes, especially where financial matters are concerned.
Often, when pastors are apprehensive about speaking about finances, or when finances are rarely discussed, parishes and pastors fall to the business model approach. This approach has a “backfire” effect when used in parishes. First of all, since it is not a spiritual approach, it removes all semblance of a Christ-centered approach, which is a mistake. Secondly, it fosters the “pay the bills” approach that holds parishioners’ feet to the fire and makes them feel obligated to get out their checkbooks only when the parish needs something.
Instead, to successfully create a culture that fosters the belief that all gifts are graces from God, and as stewards of those gifts we have the need to return a portion back to the parish, it is essential to use a spiritual approach. This approach means that all discussions of money — whether during a pastoral council meeting or a talk from the pulpit directed at the parish at large — are viewed within the domain of a pastor’s spiritual leadership.
Following a spiritual model provides opportunities for growth among parishioners and helps them participate in the parish’s mission as a whole. This leads to a feeling of belonging and a sense of ownership promoted by both the late Msgr. Thomas McGread and the recent study, Unleashing Catholic Generosity: Explaining the Giving Gap in the United States by the University of Notre Dame.
Finally, parishioners look to their pastors, deacons, and other lay leaders for their spiritual needs. They desire to better understand their faith and are often eager to follow the leaders that nourish their needs. Using a spiritual approach with regard to money only solidifies the stewardship way of life and encourages parishioners to be stronger disciples.