Communication is an important issue for a cell phone company — and for the church, as well.
“The church, like any large organization, is often weak in its communication ability,” said Father Gary Pennings, vicar general and moderator of the curia. “We don’t always communicate as effectively as we should.”
Sometimes parishioners simply don’t know how their parishes are doing. Often, the assumption is that if the lights are on and the doors are open, then everything is going great.
But that’s not necessarily true, said Father Pennings. Some parishes have significant needs — sometimes related to programs, sometimes financial — of which parishioners may not be aware.
This, in part, is why most of the parishes in the archdiocese will be conducting an offertory enhancement program this fall. Each participating parish will be assisted by the Cavan Corporation, a church development company based in Kansas City, Mo.
The archdiocesan-approved program has three purposes: to make parishioners more aware of the state of their parishes; to encourage people to be more engaged in their parishes; and to invite them to increase their financial support of the parishes.
In a letter sent to pastors in April, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann noted the extraordinary legacy of pastoral growth and accomplishment by the people of the archdiocese over the past 160 years. He also asked that archdiocesan Catholics build on this legacy.
“It is a challenge that we willingly embrace,” he wrote, “but it has been further intensified by the unprecedented financial turmoil and uncertainty that has been so prevalent during the past year — both nationally and here in northeast Kansas.”
Parishes have not been immune to the economic downturn, said Father Pennings.
“Right now we have a lot of parishes that are struggling,” he said. “Most have frozen their budgets to some degree or have limited hiring. Nonetheless, they still have costs that are going up, and for a lot of them their income has flattened or in some cases has dropped.”
The goal is that each parish, through its own offertory enhancement program, will move toward firmer financial footing.
“As a part of regional pastoral planning . . . [we’ve been] looking at how we can help the pastors and each parish to be in a stronger financial situation,” said Lesle Knop, archdiocesan consultant for stewardship and development.
“After a lot of discussion by the College of Consultors,” she continued, “the Administrative Team, and the Presbyteral Council, it was decided that the archdiocese would offer this wonderful program to all the parishes in the archdiocese.”
The program revolves around letters from pastors to parishioners. In the letters, the pastors inform parishioners about the good things going on in the parish, the things that need to be done, and a suggestion in terms of engagement in the parish — both in terms of participation and in offertory giving. The cost of the program is underwritten by the archdiocese, and the money stays in the parish where it originated.
“Every parish is a little different, so the program and the letters in each parish will be slightly different based on the parish’s needs and what the parish leadership sees as what is important for that parish,” said Father Pennings.
“Obviously, in any parish we have people who are maximally engaged and others who are less engaged,” he continued. “Every pastor wants as many people as possible to participate in the life of the parish, and stewardship is far more than just financial contribution. It’s also about being part of the parish, of being engaged in giving your time and talent. But, yes, part of it is also financial support of the parish and the ministries the parish provides.”
Most of the participating parishes will conduct the program in the fall, but Holy Angels Parish in Basehor conducted its program early, between July 15 and July 31. The parish had just completed a three-year capital campaign to build a new church,
“People love to give in support of their parish and, when asked to give an incremental increase, many parishioners responded with a generous ‘yes,’” said Father Al Rockers.
At Holy Angels, 41 percent of households participated, and they committed to a weekly or monthly increase of 52 percent. Of families that contributed to the capital campaign, 73 percent increased their weekly gift by 41 percent. And of those who had no past record of giving (but may have given cash in the collection basket), 10 percent made a commitment of about $1,200 per year.
“I think a lot of [its success] was because of Father Al,” said Larry Moore, chairman of the parish finance council. “He’s well-liked in the parish, and people respond when he indicated there’s a need. And this is a generous parish.”
Knop believes the program will be successful in other parishes, too, because of the strong faith of archdiocesan Catholics.
“We’re all part of a great Catholic community that is very rich in faith and eager to grow in love for God,” she said.
“Some have more resources than others, so many give abundantly of their time and talent,” she continued. “Look what they have already given. They are ready to answer the question: What can I do to be a greater participant in the life of my parish to ensure its vitality — not only today, but also for tomorrow?”