As our ACST team gears up our planning for the International Catholic Stewardship Conference in October, I’m filled with gratitude for the event and for our leaders of stewardship and development. The data expose a dilemma of declining generosity in the Church, with fewer people giving. And those who give most generously and sacrificially are aging. It would be easy for the ICSC Conference to become a purely fundraising conference. It would be easy for our directors of stewardship and development to focus on the funds donated as the objective of their work. But that is not what is happening.
“Let us love each other fully. Let us serve our communities. Let us fight for what is true and good,” and “Let us not settle for what our parishes looked like in the past.” – Marcel Lejeune
Over my ‘ahem’ many years at the conference, working with the conference leaders and board, and my interaction with so many diocesan and parish leaders, I continue to be inspired and humbled by their faith. The overarching message from ICSC is that fundraising is a ministry to be conducted in the context of prayerful, sacrificial gratitude. And equally important is the challenge to be disciples of Christ, with focus on evangelization, engagement and accompaniment. This is true of our diocesan leaders as well. Even in the intense pressure of the operating priorities of the diocese, each of the leaders I know is sincerely interested in helping people find Christ, most often through helping pastors and parish leaders strengthen their ministry efforts. Thank you ICSC! And Thank You all leaders of stewardship and development!
The Bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship, Stewardship: A Disciples Response, reminds us that stewardship is truly the response of a disciple. Stewardship is the behavior we exhibit through how we live our lives and interact with our environment and other people. Stewardship: A Disciples Response shows us that we are invited by Christ to be His disciples, and that personal invitation has an expectation that we cultivate a sense of human interdependence. As the ‘Body of Christ’ there is also an expectation that we care for the well-being of the Church itself.
Our societal shift away from community to individualism also increases the challenge to ‘meet people where they are.’ As good stewards we are called to invite more people to be open to a relationship with Christ. We have learned how important it is that people feel a sense of belonging in their parish community. Parishes who have intentionally focused on engaging people in the parish community have been able to foster that sense of belonging. By engaging people in the mission and direction of the parish, ministry leaders are able to provide more opportunities for parishioners to explore their faith, encounter Christ and become intentional disciples.
Steps for Parish Leaders
- Teach Stewardship – help your parishioners understand stewardship as a way of life. Create a culture of stewardship focused on caring for each other, for people outside the parish and for the environment. Remind parishioners of God’s generosity and their personal giftedness. Create a culture of gratitude.
- Define Engagement – align parish leadership on the definition of what engagement means for your parish. What are the observable behaviors that you agree indicate a person is more and more deeply engaged in your parish community? The behaviors don’t necessarily need to be progressive or linear, it could be that doing more than one activity in the parish is an indication that the person is more deeply engaged in the parish.
- Measure Engagement – once you have a definition, then find ways to collect the data. Where possible, use group check-in, giving trends, or other automatic ways to collect the information. Collect the data by individual so you know that person’s parish experience. Your objective is not inspection, it is to see that a person is increasing their participation in the parish, and to know when and how to walk with that person as a member of your parish community.
- Set priorities for the parish – as part of your priority focus, set goals for engagement. How will you and your leadership team know your efforts are working? What do you hope to attain in the next year?
- Find and use an indicator of faith and discipleship – try a resource like the Discipleship Indicator from ACST or another resource that invites parishioners to reflect on their faith and provides pastors and parish leaders feedback on how the parish is helping them grow in their relationship with Christ.
Stewardship challenges us to live as disciples of Christ. We can learn from the wisdom of the Bishops’ pastoral letter and from the beauty of the stewardship message and from leaders across the United States who are examples of living stewardship!