Speaker offers 10 ways to promote stewardship in parishes

Photo Caption: Stewardship must permeate all facets of parish life, Charles Zech of Villanova University told those attending a diocesan Development and Stewardship Conference on Sept. 28.

By: By Tom Dermody

“What could your parish do with twice as much money?”

As 155 parish and Catholic school leaders pondered the possibilities,
Charles Zech offered 10 ways to promote stewardship — a gratitude and faith-filled way of life based on seeing everything as a gift from God.

“Stewardship is so much about who we are,” said Zech, a keynote speaker at the Diocese of Peoria’s annual Development and Stewardship Conference on Sept. 28, “that if we had all the money in the world, we’d still be talking about stewardship.”

Zech is director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University near Philadelphia and author of the book “Why Catholics Don’t Give . . . And What Can Be Done About It.” He was the first of three major presenters at the day-long conference, sponsored at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria by the Office of Development and Stewardship.

The day opened with a Mass, and Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, addressed the group at lunch.

“The life of a Christian steward, lived in imitation of the life of Christ, is not only challenging — even difficult in many ways — but both here and hereafter is charged with intense joy,” said Bishop Jenky. He pointed out how stewardship is key to providing resources needed to effectively share Christ in parishes, schools, and on college campuses throughout the diocese.

In his morning presentation, Zech noted that Catholics are “really low givers” compared with Protestants — contributing an average of about 1.2 percent of their income to their parish, half of the Protestant average. If Catholics gave at the same rate, claimed Zech, parishes in the U.S. would realize another $7 billion.

Zech shared ideas for helping parishioners “behave in a way that reflects our love for the church.” Topping his list of ten activities to advance parish stewardship was “Be a welcoming parish.”

“If your parish is not a welcoming place, don’t waste your time on stewardship,” he said, encouraging a continuing mix of hospitality including the use of greeters, welcome visits to new parishioners, and parish activity fairs offering members opportunities to get involved.

Zech also urged all parishes to have a stewardship council comprised of members who live it and understand that stewardship is about spirituality as well as time, talent, and treasure.

“If your parish is not a more spiritual place, then your stewardship council is a failure,” he said.

Other activities recommended by Zech to promote parish stewardship included making it a vital component of the parish plan; emphasizing it in all parish formation and education programs; providing opportunities for lay witness presentations; encouraging the use of pledged commitments (Zech strongly endorsed electronic giving); communicating about stewardship through homilies, bulletins and newsletters; modeling it in the parish house; and speaking less about volunteering and more about assisting a ministry.

Summing his message up in one word, Zech chose “permeate.”

“If you want something to take off, it has to permeate the entire parish so that every ministry understands their role in promoting stewardship,” he said.

Other speakers included Carol Guenther of The Reid Group, who explained how “this is an especially gifted time for stewardship in Peoria” because of the Growing in Faith Together process affecting every parish, and Bill Engelbrecht, director of advancement for the diocese who spoke on planned giving.

John Gibson, director of the Office of Development and Stewardship, served as master of ceremonies.

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