Special Events: Stewardship

Special events are “special” because they touch four of the five aspects of Parish Advancement, namely, Fellowship, Revenue Management, Evangelization and Stewardship.  Last week, we focused on Evangelization, since special events bring those who are members of the parish to the parish.  Not necessarily for worship, but for other events.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  Not everyone is like Simon, James and John that immediately left their fishing livelihood to follow Jesus.

It’s important to note that they’re the three followers Jesus takes with Him to see His Transfiguration, and the same three he asks to accompany him to pray in Gethsemane before his betrayal.  I think it shows the importance of having 3 good friends…and for business leaders, to have a cadre of three people.  For most organizations there are four officers – a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer.  Most people think those are four people who run the organization, and that having four “officers” can create tie votes in order to be able to table actions; but the President is the one who is synonymous with the organization, and the other three are support to the actions of the organization.

This week, we look at Stewardship.

Stewardship is the giving of one’s time, talent and treasure back to God in thanksgiving for the blessings He has bestowed upon each one of us.  A special event hosted by the parish utilizes the time, talent and treasure of the people of the parish to make it successful.

Please remember that this does not necessarily mean that those who worked on the event are expected to attend the event to ensure its success.  Indeed, they may be already working the event, in addition to have assisted in the planning and set-up, and will stick around to help with tear-down!  Remember, if only the people of the parish attend the event, and it raises money for the parish, that’s a fundraiser…not a fund raising event.  That space between the words “fund” and “raising” is a very important one.

It’s a given that time will need to be invested in making a special event a success.  Some of the talents of the people of the parish may also need to be tapped….decorating, construction, financial accounting, etc.  Some of the treasure of the parish community may need to go into obtaining items necessary for the special event’s success, but the “proceeds” of the event need to come from those attending the event…and that includes people outside the parish, as well as those from the parish that aren’t involved in the planning, hosting, or “working” the special event.

Stewardship means that the people of the parish are willing to work for the event’s success, and ideas are plentiful.  The issue that many parishes face today is that getting volunteers for special events like the parish festival is more difficult than ever.

I’ll be you’re saying, “Well, of course it is!”   After all, if you’re reading this, you have a computer, iPad, Smartphone, or some other piece of technology that wasn’t around 30 years ago.  This is just a guess, but you probably have different life priorities than you did 30 years ago, too.  The way to announce events has also changed.  Newspapers are being replaced by Web sites.  Add to this the fact that today’s generation of young adults (Generation X) are members of the “Me” Generation, and, as a generalization, have more concern for themselves than they do the communities that they belong to.  The same is true for the next generation, the Millennials.  While they’re more spiritual in nature, their communities are virtual ones, not neighborhood ones.  That said, we can’t just put a general announcement in the bulletin anymore, and expect that those who read it will call their friends to see if they want to attend.   Moreover, these people might not even be attending Mass on Sunday, and if they do, and leave right after communion (or before communion), they’re certainly not going to pick up a bulletin…especially if someone isn’t at the door to put one in their hands.  Further, in some parishes, special announcements are made before Mass begins, or after Meditation ends and before the final blessing.  If someone arrives while the Entrance Hymn is being sung, and leaves after they receive the Eucharist, they’re not hearing the message either.

So how do we get their attention?  They must be personally invited to attend.  And, those younger adults (the Millennials) will want to get a group of their friends together to attend.  I’m now fond of calling this generation “The Like Generation,” because of their propensity to “like” articles on Facebook and other social media.  Some folks have called them the “Us” Generation in comparison to the “Me” Generation.  However, a better moniker would be that they are the “Like Me” Generation, since their definition of “Us” really isn’t “us.”  It’s more along the lines of “others like me.”  They also crave validation, and therefore, are energized when people “like” what they post, and therefore, “like” them, and especially when they are “like them.”

As for the need to be invited, our parish has a Men’s Group, and every now and then, there’s an announcement in the Sunday bulletin about the meeting that will be held during the coming week.  A couple of years ago, on the Saturday evening Mass prior to the meeting, I was a Eucharistic Minister.  When I brought the cup back after communion, our pastor said “Thanks” as he always does, but then said, “Hey, you’re not part of the Men’s Group yet, are you?”  I said I wasn’t.  He said, “There’s a meeting this Wednesday night.  If you’re available, it’s a great way to meet some of the other guys involved in the parish.”  Now, which invitation do you think was most effective?  The bulletin, or the personal ask from the Pastor?

The experience also has to be enjoyable for the intended audience, promoted in ways that target the intended audience, and encourage the intended audience to foster a relationship with the parish.  For instance, if your intent is to bring more young families with small children to your parish, you might not want to invite them to a spaghetti dinner.

I hear it now – “But spaghetti dinners are inexpensive…we don’t understand why they don’t attend!”

Think of a toddler eating spaghetti.  There aren’t many parents that want to deal with a potential mess in public…and others that may not want to sit next to a toddler eating spaghetti.  After all, our parishes aren’t known for having tables that seat only 4 or, at most, 6 people, with ample space between them for comfortable maneuvering.  I don’t know about you, but the last fundraising function I attended had three “cafeteria” tables lined up end to end, with absolutely no way to get toward the middle of the table.  Just like church, everyone sat at the end, and became annoyed when people tried to get around them.  Then watch what happens when someone trips over a chair leg and food and drink end up all over a seated individual’s head and back.  Think they’ll want to come back again?

Perhaps the most astute question is, “Why is the room still set up that way?”  Unfortunately, all too often, the answer is, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Keep thinking that way, and watch your attendance continue to decline.

Special events today require strategies to be used that may have never been used before.  Thinking about special events strategically, however, may bring about significant benefits.  When you’re planning your event, the first step is to pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to inspire your work.  Then, when someone says, “But we’ve never done it this way before,” you’ll know you’re on the right track.  Indeed, He does make all things new.

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