Answers for Catholic Schools Running Out of Time

Catholic Parish Development/Stewardship Crisis in 2022: How Many Catholic Parishes Are Simply Running Out of Time? There Are Answers!

2021-22 Sample Headlines

  • “Seattle Archdiocese plan to close churches stirs sadness, anger, and resistance”
  • “In Cincinnati, the number of priests is projected to drop by 20% in five years. Participation in Catholic sacraments was also in decline. There were 23% fewer baptisms, first communions, confirmations and weddings, and the average Sunday Mass was about one-third full.”
  • “More church closings, mergers announced by Archdiocese of Chicago.”
  • “Ohio Dioceses Dealing with Closing Parishes”
  • “117-year-old Polish Roman Catholic Church closing this month in New Bedford, MA.”
  • “Archdiocese of Baltimore panel recommends closing three Catholic churches. Proposal aims to reduce expenses, reallocate resources.”
  • “Why are more Catholic Churches closing their doors? Three Catholic churches in Vermont are set to close within the next week– the latest sign of the times for Vermont’s largest church community.”

Here at ISPD, we don’t know if you get jolted as much as we do, but we get concerned when we hear about Catholic parishes that permanently close or are swallowed up in a merger with some losing their identity. So many resources (PEW Research, NCEA, WSJ, Gallup, USCCB, ISPD surveys, etc.) have pointed to the reasons why this trend continues:

  • Church’s sex abuse scandal
  • Individuals and families turned off by the church’s opposition to same sex marriages or abortion
  • Covid-19
  • Not enough programs and ministries for young people (ages 18-25)
  • Shifting demographics
  • Lack of understanding that “belonging leads to believing” and not (as it used to be), “believing leads to belonging.”
  • Parishes continuing to operate in a silo with very little collaboration with other parishes.
  • Only 30% of parishioners being engaged in parish life today; 47% not being engaged; 23% actively disengaged
  • The pyramid structure of top-down governance and leadership can be a major barrier to building a Culture of Belonging
  • And the list goes on

Having worked with hundreds of Catholic parishes over the past 32+ years as consultants, workshop and on-line teachers, and coaches, here at ISPD we have often asked this question to ourselves, “If we were a pastor, deacon, parish council member, ministry leader, or finance committee chair with a Catholic parish today, and we knew that one of the main answers to our success and future viability was to have a vibrant, robust, and successful development – stewardship – people engagement effort system in place, would we be willing to invest the resources, the time, and the personnel to make sure that our Catholic parish would be at “the top of the class” when it came to making development— stewardship – people engagement one of our top priorities?”

Quite honestly, we don’t know how some of the above Catholic leaders would answer

that question. In the ISPD world, the answer would be ABSOLUTELY! However, as we work with many (arch) dioceses, individual parishes, and teach through our workshops and on-line courses through the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives at the University of Dayton, so many times we run across parishes who have very little in place in regard to an organized and systemic approach centered around the six main areas of parish development/stewardship:

  • Constituent Records
  • Communication
  • Total Stewardship
  • Fund Development
  • People Engagement
  • Fund/Friend-Raising Events

Now, we are not denying that many parishes have something in place – fundraisers like fairs and festivals, social media posts, website, brick and paver sales, a capital campaign every ten years, and possibly even a direct mail annual fund drive. And, in many cases, this is being handled by an office staff member or a volunteer. But so much is missing:

  • Education to all leadership groups (parish council, finance council, ministry leaders, parish staff, etc.) on what development/stewardship is all about and why this is everyone’s responsibility
  • Long-Term Vision for the future of the parish
  • Collaborative Plan of Action with the school (if applicable)
  • Long-Range Pastoral Plan for the parish
  • Development/Stewardship Director or
  • People Engagement Director
  • Development Core Team
  • Development software
  • Major Donor Portfolio work
  • Vibrant Planned Giving effort
  • Memorial Giving Program
  • Identification of the parish’s top 10 points that make it a wonderful parish
  • A hospitality ministry that welcomes and builds relationships person-to-person and “eyeball to eyeball”
  • And the list goes on


Now, before you stop reading, please hear us out. The main purpose of a vibrant parish development/stewardship effort should be to engage people – expand your base. Remember one main principle: Belonging leads to believing. Fully understanding and implementing a development system will bring more people to understand and believe in you and the mission and vision of your parish. Keep going back to the same people all the time? Keep ministering only to the ones who sit in the pews on the weekend? Well, you will keep getting the same results. And that is the definition of insanity.


One of the main purposes of a Catholic parish development/stewardship effort is to create CRITICAL MASS. Critical Mass can be defined as “self-sustained viability.” A parish that reaches critical mass will endure and will last – as long as the people-base is constantly expanded – day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. This is what advances a parish and keeps it growing with vibrancy and promise and life. Not a fund-raising event. Not a direct mail appeal. Not enhanced offertory giving letters or a fund-raising company that just wants to go get the money. People are what makes vibrancy happen, and this is the lesson that Catholic leaders need to understand.


  • Mary of the Assumption Parish in Springboro, OH: Once located in Franklin, Ohio and led by Father Jim Manning with many who believed they had outgrown their church in downtown Franklin, they embarked upon a Long-Range Pastoral Plan, engaged hundreds of people, which all led to them launching a capital campaign to relocate and build a new church in Springboro, OH where today they are thriving. In the first 18 months of opening the new church, they welcomed over 500 new families. They continue to thrive today. KEY: People engagement and leadership that “gets it”
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Slidell, LA: One of the hardest hit churches in the Archdiocese of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, OLL lost most every facility on their campus, except the cafeteria, which became their place of worship for two years. Led by Father Frank Lipps and Father Kyle Dave, and many parish families who came back after Katrina had scattered them all over the country, Our Lady of Lourdes built a new school, a new church, a new gymnasium and continued to open their doors and build back the congregation they lost from the hurricane. Today, under new pastoral and lay leadership, ministries are vibrant, and the campus is beautiful. KEY: Understanding that the parish belongs to the people and not just the clergy
  • Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Dawsonville, Georgia: In 2017, parish leaders wanted to build a new church. They went through a feasibility study with a consulting firm that wanted to run their campaign for them. That did not fit their culture. When ISPD was invited to present the way we worked with campaigns, we had to answer one question: Who visits the people? Our response: You do. We will get you ready and up to speed, but we build a capital campaign through people engagement. To make a long story short, Christ the Redeemer invited and involved over 90% of their parish families and went $1.3 million over their goal, which was changed several times by the archdiocese. Just recently, they dedicated their new church. Key: This is the people’s parish, and they made it happen.
  • Mary of the Angels in Chicago, IL: Father John Waiss, pastor, and Beth Dolack, principal of St. Mary of the Angels decided in the fall of 2021 they wanted to really do something about the parish and the school collaborating and building programs and ministries together. They launched a process to create a parish and school collaborative Plan of Action. Begun in January 2022, they have built an Executive Committee, a Core Team, and have 50-75 people coming to two planning workshops this summer. They have engaged over 500 people in surveys and interviews, and they plan to invite the entire parish to a planning Convocation on August 31, 2022. The purpose? Move beyond status quo, build the people base, and bring the parish and school together like they have never done before. Key: Commitment and leap of faith by the pastor and principal and willingness to open wide the doors to Christ for many who have never gotten involved.
  • Holy Name of Jesus Parish and School in New Orleans, LA: Led by Father Mark Thibodeaux, pastor, and Kirsch Wilberg, principal, they decided several years ago that Holy Name would be best served if the parish and the school worked side by side. They hired a parish and school development director (Amy Nolan), continued building a culture of belonging, built a partnership between the school and Loyola University right next door, launched a feasibility study to address needs of the parish and the school, and in the fall of 2022 will enter in the beginning stages of a capital campaign with over 60 people in campaign organizational leadership positions. Key: Collaborative spirit, excellent leaders, and commitment to expanding the people base – one by one.
  • Ann Parish in Cincinnati, OH: Although undergoing normal pastor changes since ISPD worked with them years ago, the people of St. Ann Parish continue to thrive. Tim Clifford, who was there when we worked with parish leaders 25 years ago, still serves as the Director of Stewardship and People Engagement. They have launched so many ministries and programs, even during the pandemic. Growing out of their recent Strategic Plan for Parish Development, they continue to reach their parish families with their phone outreach ministry; their outreach to seniors, shut-ins, and others; their “radical” hospitality movement; Outdoor Rosary Rallies, Trivia Night, and expanded outreach on Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other times. Their “Sunday Mass Experience” has attracted many to learn more about the parish while they are there for mass on the weekend. This is an alive parish! Key: Commitment to planning and people engagement.
  • National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oaks, MI: ISPD had the pleasure of working with Shrine back five years ago when we facilitated their long-range pastoral planning process which engaged hundreds. Amazingly, those same implementation teams (now called Solutions Teams) are still alive – nine of them. Under the direction of their new pastor, Father Joe Horn, Shrine continues to surge, and in the past few months has established five new goals which will engage hundreds and take the parish to new levels of spreading the gospel message. Those five new goals are:
    • To celebrate the 100-year year anniversary of the canonization of St. Therese in May 2025;
    • To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in bringing about a season of renewal at Shrine as we approach Shrine’s 100-year anniversary as a parish in June 2026;
    • To discern how God is calling us to serve the local community, region, and the nation as a Basilica, and in particular how St. Therese can lead us along the “little way” to Jesus;
    • To communicate, integrate, and educate all in the Shrine faith community and beyond on the new Mission and Vision Statements.
    • To enhance collaboration, people engagement, and faith formation between the Shrine schools and the whole parish family.

Indeed, Shrine is alive with the spirit of St. Therese! Key: Commitment to engaging people and “the little way” to Jesus.

  • Michael the Archangel in Auburn, AL; St. Rita Parish in Santa Rosa Beach, FL; Saint Mary Star of the Sea and The Basilica School in Key West, FL: The first two parishes are in the beginning stages of launching feasibility studies and capital campaigns to build new Catholic elementary schools in their respective areas. Saint Mary Star of the Sea recently completed their feasibility study for The Basilica School and plan to expand the elementary school into a Catholic high school. Three parishes on the move! Key: Moving beyond mediocrity

We could go on and on with example after example. Let’s go back to the title of this newsletter: Catholic Parish Development/Stewardship Crisis in 2022: How Many Catholic Parishes Are Simply Running Out of Time? There Are Answers!

There is no need to run out of time. There are answers. There are steps to take. There are parishes to save and futures to ensure and secure. NOW is the time – in 2022 – to move forward, cast out into the deep and move beyond mediocrity. INVEST TODAY IN PARISH DEVELOPMENT/STEWARDSHIP/PEOPLE ENGAGEMENT!

Remember: Always approach a problem/challenge the same way, always end up in the same place.

ISPD has answers! We would love to have you join our team and together we can work to ensure the future of your Catholic parish and/or school.


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