The most recent edition of U.S. Catholic magazine has a cover article, “The parish that works: Should your church run like a business?”
Funny you should ask. I learned that the answer to this question is a very strong yes years ago, from sitting on boards of directors.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I served on the boards of Jubilee Soup Kitchen (with its 501 (3) (c) corporation entitled Jubilee Association, Inc.) and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Inc., long before I became a pastor. And a good thing I did. Because the seminary may teach a man how to be a priest, but it doesn’t teach you how to be a pastor.
As pastor I not only lead the people in the Sunday Mass and as a spiritual community, I am chief employment officer, personnel director, finance officer, ecumenical and interfaith liaison, and purchaser of everything from the new Roman Missal to ice machines, computers and roof repairs. I am also charged by diocesan and universal canon law to use wisely and well pastoral and finance councils for the proper stewardship of parish resources. How do you learn all this?
Well, I was exposed to many sound (and some wrong-headed) business practices through board work. I participated in brain-storming sessions to craft multi-year strategic plans. I learned to read and interpret the financial statements, and how to exercise intelligent fiscal oversight. I became convinced of the absolute need for an agenda and set end time to produce an efficient meeting. Msgr. McCarren helped me to identify over-functioning behaviors, also known as micro-managing, and the optimal relationship between the board of directors and the executive director. I’ve served on search committees for executive directors, and on firing committees. I’ve seen good executive directors and bad ones.
I am still learning new business practices. A few days ago the Board of Directors and the Membership of Catholic Charities met for our annual joint meeting. During our 2½ hours together I scribbled down business concepts we discussed I am familiar with: friend cultivation; stewardship and planned giving; marketing and branding; time management; strategic plans; fiscal transparency; employee evaluation; vision and value statements; mission focus and effectiveness. There were also some new phrases I have yet to learn: benchmarking and best practices; sustainability fund; regulatory compliance; dashboards; KRAs (key responsibility areas); metrics; logic models.
In the U.S. Catholic article, Dr. Charles Zech, a
professor who’s written books about church finances and governance, is quoted, “The church is not a business, but we do have a stewardship responsibility to use our resources wisely.” Amen. I’m glad that my volunteer board work has shown me the wisdom of that comment, and helped to inform my pastoral work. Villanova University