By now, your parish is well into the second week of Advent and finalizing your plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas. I know I have been eager to be in community this year. We may see some large gatherings for Christmas Mass with the appropriate health observations. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Many of you are planning for both in-person and virtual gatherings, which is a great way to help everyone celebrate the gift of our Savior.
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7
Advent and Christmas are natural times for welcome and hospitality. Along with the liturgical season, we are nearing the end of the calendar year, so we tend to emphasize financial giving and planning for giving. So it seems that the request for financial giving gets the attention and even takes priority. This should also be a time of “giftedness.” During Advent, we are preparing for the greatest gift of all. We should also reflect on our gifts and how we use and return them for the glory of God.
Recently I wrote about stewardship and the Bishops Pastoral Letter on Stewardship. The pastoral letter emphasizes that stewardship is expressed as a result of our decision to live as disciples of Christ. It is filled with reminders of our need to protect and care for our common home and our call to go outward to tell the Good News to others. Financial giving is one of the outcomes of true stewardship, our recognition of our need to give in celebration of our relationship with Christ and with our parish.
Sustained financial giving arises from belonging, which starts with a trusting relationship. First, we must welcome and engage people in the parish community. Engagement can lead to greater financial giving.
Nic Prenger of Prenger Solutions Group researched the role in ongoing communications as an impact on greater giving. He determined that regular contact with parishioners does result in a higher percentage of financial giving. His premise is that engagement through social media is important because that is where people spend their time. The results demonstrate that reaching parishioners through meaningful social media content results in 44% higher giving to the parish! In another study in the Diocese of Lansing, Prenger shows that planned communications (in addition to social media) result in greater giving. Parishes that were intentional and consistent in their communications to parishioners received twice the level of giving compared to parishes that did not participate.
Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD, has a goal to increase parishioner engagement, according to Brandon Hollern, Director of Finance and Technology. The parish encourages parishioners to participate through prayer, ministry, and sharing their faith. Through their parish software, they collect the data to show that people who are more engaged in the parish also give more financially. Parishioners who are in a small group give 2.5 times more than the average family. If they are in a small group and also volunteer for a ministry, they give 2.9 times more than the average family.
These examples reinforce the need for grounding in stewardship and engagement. It begins with welcome.
During a recent webinar from Rebuilt Parish, I was reminded of the particular importance of Christmas Eve as an opportunity to truly welcome visitors to the parish, demonstrating the beauty and mystery of our Catholic Faith. Christmas Eve is the most likely time families will bring their friends and visitors to Mass, so this is a time for intentional planning to make the celebration truly inspiring.
This resonated with me because my experience is that my parish treats earlier Mass times on Christmas Eve more as “accommodations” with some greater focus on Midnight Mass. While midnight Mass is a beautiful celebration, it is not possible for everyone to be present. Our parishes miss an opportunity if we aren’t laser-focused on the earlier Mass times on Christmas Eve.
Are welcome, hospitality, and engagement in your planning for the rest of Advent and for Christmas? Have you increased your communications and your social media? Have you planned who will welcome people to Mass in the sanctuary and in any additional spaces?
There is time to make this the most engaging Christmas ever! May it be a joyful celebration!
Terry is a multi-disciplined executive who is passionate about serving the Church through supporting his leaders and organizations. His experience includes coaching and training Catholic leaders, facilitating priority planning with dioceses and parishes, consulting with parish leaders to engage parishioners, and using technology to foster stewardship. Terry serves as chairman of the finance council for his home parish in Hartsville, SC, and as cantor for his parish in Myrtle Beach.