Finding the Right Tools to Engage your Parishioners

by Cassandra Chesser

How would you describe your parish? Is it vibrant, filled with enthusiastic parishioners? Or is it dull and lifeless? These were the questions posed to a diverse group of clergy and lay Catholics at a workshop on stewardship hosted by the Office of Development and Stewardship of the Diocese of St. Augustine last week. Sponsored by Liturgical Publications, Tracy Welliver and Tim Potrikus taught attendees how to build a more vibrant parish through stewardship.


Tracy Welliver of Liturgical Publications giving the keynote address for the 2016 Stewardship Conference at Holy Family Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Florida. | Photo by Brandon Duncan/St. Augustine Catholic

First, how do you define stewardship? Stewardship is defined simply as giving time, talent and treasure. Stewardship is more than just writing a check each week or volunteering for an hour or two – it is a way of life. According to Welliver and Potrikus, it’s the key to building and growing a vibrant parish. The workshop provided attendees best practices gathered from parishes practicing good stewardship throughout the country.

On average, only 7 percent of parishioners at a given parish are active and enthusiastic participants. That means the other 93 percent are disengaged. Good stewardship can help raise the number of engaged parishioners, Welliver explained.

Father Ignatius Plathanam, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Orange Park listens to the keynote during the 2016 Stewardship Conference at Holy Family Catholic Church in Jacksonville. | Photo by Brandon Duncan/St. Augustine Catholic

Father Ignatius Plathanam, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Orange Park looks on during the keynote address at the 2016 Stewardship Conference along with over 60 parish ministers from around the diocese. | Photo by Brandon Duncan/St. Augustine Catholic

Parishes should look at their identity, which includes both hospitality and branding. Do new parishioners feel welcome when they attend Mass? Things like welcome kits, hospitality ministers and ushers, information booths, and acceptance of people with special needs can go a long way to ensuring that they do. Having an identifiable brand, or logo, for your parish can also make a big difference, and not just from a marketing standpoint. Having a good brand can help parishioners feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Another suggestion made was to pay close attention to how the parish staff communicates with parishioners. Having a strong online presence, as well as digital engagement, is vital to building a stronger, more vibrant parish. According to Welliver, 61 percent of parishioners say that the website is a large factor in their decision to attend their current church… or not! So what does your website tell potential parishioners? Parishes should also take advantage of resources like social media, which can be used for more than letting people know when the next ministry meeting is or a list of Mass times. It can be an incredible tool for catechesis, as well as a way to interact with parishioners and to bring in new people. Developing a parish app was also a recommendation made at the workshop, as well as ensuring that websites are mobile-friendly.

Photo by Brandon Duncan/St. Augustine Catholic

Photo by Brandon Duncan/St. Augustine Catholic

However, perhaps the most important tool in building good stewardship at your parish is having strong formation, through catechesis and evangelization. Parishes must form intentional disciples, who can then evangelize the truth of Jesus Christ, which means that parishioners must be able to explain and defend their faith.

Putting all of these tools together can sow the seeds to increase engagement in your parish. A parish looking to do this must follow the three convictions of stewardship. First, the challenge: a mature discipleship requires the decision to follow Christ no matter what. Second, the choice: stewardship is a way of life, not a series of choices. Finally, the vision: stewardship is transformational. How will you transform your parish?

Those interested in learning more about stewardship can attend the 5th Annual Stewardship Conference, presented by the diocese. It is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 5, from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church – Cody Enrichment Center in Jacksonville. For details, call (904) 262-3200, ext. 171.