We are now more than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and over the past year, the Catholic Church as a whole and the parishes we work with at Catholic Stewardship Consultants (CSC) have faced challenges and hardships, unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetime.
From the suspension of public Masses to the cancellation of ministry activities and parish events, the impact of the pandemic has been felt by every one of the approximately 17,000 Catholic parishes in the United States.
And even though we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, with the promise of a return to normal with the rollout of vaccines and COVID numbers on the decline in many areas around the country, the effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt for months and perhaps years to come for many Catholic parishes.
One of the biggest challenges many parishes have faced this past year has been a drop in offertory collections. According to a special report by The Pillar — a Catholic media organization that produces twice-weekly newsletters covering the Church in America — parishes saw on average a 12 percent drop in offertory collections between 2019 and 2020. In this report, The Pillar created a database of 2019 and 2020 parish collections data from 100 parishes in dioceses in 10 selected ecclesiastical provinces across the U.S. The Pillar reported that 82 percent of the parishes examined “suffered a decrease in collections during 2020 compared to 2019. In normal times, those tithing dollars would go to support salaries and programs, repairs and utilities.”
However, The Pillar report also showcased some surprising findings, as parishes in several dioceses in some of the areas hit hardest by COVID in terms of lockdowns, infection and death rates, and unemployment rate, actually saw its offertory numbers go up. And across the board, the areas where offertory numbers remained steady or showed improvement during the pandemic shared a common thread. The most successful parishes were the ones with pastors who were engaged and involved and came up with innovative ways to remain connected to parishioners during the lockdowns and restrictions we continue to face, such as Mass attendance capacity, offices being closed or semi-open, and many ministries still on pause. What’s more, the most successful parishes in this report are ones with parish leaders who also took action and helped the members of the parish remain active and committed to ministry involvement, prayer, and keeping up with their financial giving.
In other words, the parishes that found new ways to promote stewardship and active discipleship are the parishes that weathered the storm of the pandemic over the past 12 months. For more than 20 years, CSC has worked with hundreds of parishes and dioceses across the country to help them develop Disciples of Christ through the practice of stewardship — returning a portion of one’s time, talent, and treasure back to God in gratitude for the gifts He has given us.
We believe the concept of stewardship can help any parish not only weather any storm but thrive despite hard times, and the results we have seen during the pandemic are proof of that. What’s more, The Pillar’s recent findings drive that point home. While they may not have used the term “stewardship” when describing the positive things the successful parishes in its report have been doing to help offertory numbers to remain steady or improve, the report spells out actions that are without a doubt rooted in the principles of stewardship that CSC uses and teaches every day. Many of the ideas and concepts outlined in the report used by parishes during the pandemic are recommendations CSC gave to its parish clients many months ago during the early stages of COVID shutdowns in early-to-mid 2020.
Over the coming weeks and months, we will be sharing some inspiring “Stewardship Success Stories” with reports on several of our client parishes and how they have been transformed by developing stewardship as a way of life — not only during the crisis of the past year but in many cases for the past several years.