January 15, 2015

A Tale of Two Parishes: Lessons Learned From The Field

Cinda Lavely, financial resource consultant, tells a story of working with two parishes at the same time and some lessons she learned along the way:

“Working with two churches at the same time to help them find their way to a new form of annual giving campaign in itself isn’t unusual for a consultant. What was striking to me were their very different responses, despite a similar approach.

"Working with each one, it felt as though we were starting from scratch, although these parishes had been around for ages. In each I was struck by the need for inspired members of the parish to work magic on their fellows. “In one church, there was an abundance of deeply faithful, thoughtful parishioners who feel called to live into their support for the church in a visible, vocal, extroverted way. This church successfully transitioned to a mission-oriented budget and vestry, organizing subgroups that allowed the vestry energy to filter down into less active members of the congregation. I continue to be surprised at the complete power each of these live-out-loud lay leaders had over his or her own ministry group. The congregation was involved and engaged.

“The second parish struggled to find its way to a stewardship ngathering. They seemed to suffer from a drought of participation. As a consultant and third party observer, these parishioners seemed more audience-like than involved, and they seemed to despair of reaching their goals.

“After many sessions with this parish, a lone parishioner stepped up to draw a line in the sand. The effect on the parish was palpable. As with so many effective figures, this parishioner merely said aloud what all were thinking and feeling. Finally the parish had an outlet for their deeply felt convictions.

“What I took from this is that success in stewardship (that is, finding committed supporters of your church) is not a matter of enthusing members into action, and it's also not a question of good programs and lots of young people to energize the tired. Instead, it's about listening for the voice of the people is already there, though inaudible at times and establishing a climate of support that encourages speaking up.

"What can seem like inattention and lethargy was actually just a lack of motivation. Helping people find their voice can be a way to generate excitement.”

Sometimes it takes careful listening and observation to discover what is blocking progress. Perhaps your parish has a number of volunteers but needs a different organizational framework. Perhaps your organization needs space for stakeholders to be heard before moving forward in mission. 

At the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), we’re experienced in helping congregations identify new approaches and opportunities as well as overcoming the things that are blocking progress or change. From the resources available on this site (visit our Topics index) to our programs related to strengthening financial or leadership resources,  we’re here to help.

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