In writing advancement articles for schools, administrators seem to take sides – is the faith-based school a business, or is it a ministry? Recent articles have been written to say that it’s BOTH – just as Jesus was both true God and true man.
In the spirit of “Next Practices,” I suggest that it’s not just two things – it is three things in one – just like the Holy Trinity. It’s a business, it’s a ministry, AND it’s a school (and, to continue the comparison, how things have survived this long is a mystery, so the Holy Spirit must be at work!). It also supports recent assertions that you first have to be a “good school” before you can be a “good Catholic school.” Over-emphasizing its faith identity without paying equal attention to the activities, curriculum, technology and surroundings (those things that make a school a school) moves the school closer to obsolescence. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
But today, “good” today isn’t “good enough.” We should be striving for excellence, as it’s one of the hallmarks of faith-based education in terms of academics. If a school is already “excellent” as a school, it should also strive to be “excellent” as a ministry, and “excellent” as a business. In fact, some parishes today have opted for favoring religious formation programs over the presence of a Catholic school because they’ve not been “good” at the business practices (asset management, retention, marketing, enrollment, and development) necessary to support a vibrant Catholic school today. Even more interesting is seeing what happens when, after telling them year after year after year that they need another staff person to “own” the process of seeking outside sources for funds, they reluctantly partner with a company who will do this for them – but there will be a cost – and the company finds over $100,000 dollars in contributions for them! Why was there such a success so fast? Three reasons: the school administrators didn’t have time to learn what they needed to learn; the school board wouldn’t allocate additional funds to fund someone to do the work for them; and the combination of the administrators and the board didn’t ask for support because of the other two reasons. It’s amazing what happens when ideas and solutions are right in front of you, but they’re not considered because there’s too much surrounding them.
Just like schools, parishes need visionary leadership. But simply paying attention to just one of the elements in the FIRES Framework can lead to problems. For instance, tracking assets and expenses keeps the focus on the bottom line – and when you’re constantly looking at the bottom line, you can run into a wall and get hurt. Peripheral vision is necessary, but the focus must be on the vision that is before us in order for the Church to fulfill her mission.
Most parishes today have a business manager, and therefore, that business manager should not only be skilled in the practice of business, but also has to be a person of deep faith so that, even if they are not Catholic, can work in a spirit of ecumenism – simply because you are doing God’s work. They also need an advancement director, or, at least, a stewardship director, to coordinate stewardship, fellowship and evangelization efforts, since there’s probably already a director of faith formation in place to care for the “initiation” element of the FIRES framework.
In dealing with today’s younger members of the parish, it helps to know that they need to know “why.” It’s not so much that people can’t take “no” for answer, it’s that they desire an explanation. The more significant difficulty is when people can’t take “why” for answer. The next step might be to ask them take on a project themselves if they’re passionate about it. If they say no, it’s at that time they may get the message.
Here’s an example. A young parent wants to help raise money for the youth group by having the students participate in a summer car wash. It’s not so much that it’s not a good idea, but say the summer has already started, Vacation Bible School is over, and the parish is in high gear in the planning of the summer festival which is now just a little more than a month away. There’s not a good way to communicate to the members of the youth group at this point since they’re not in session (which will be another “Fellowship” article on the horizon), so the decision is made. While the project is worthwhile, the answer is “no,” simply because there is not enough time to prepare, no easy way to get in touch with all the members, and the festival is the matter at hand. But, the young parent presses for “a better reason.” Here’s a great response:
“So you’d like to coordinate this event, yes? You can get all the permission signatures from all the parents, contact all the children, set the date, get the buckets, sponges, gloves, and hoses, plan the publicity, and then assign responsibilities to the students. Since this is the end of June, and the festival is at the beginning of August, you can get this all done in a couple of weeks, right? So, what date in July would you like to do this?”
The probable response may be, “Well, um, no, I really don’t have the time for this. I came up with the idea, and I really think it should be done, but I’m an idea person, and somebody else needs to coordinate it.”
And for the same reasons that the idea person doesn’t have the time for it, your staff currently doesn’t have the time for a hurried event, and hoping it will be a success either – but it should be advanced for consideration in planning for next year.
This is an example of the lessons our parishes need to teach. Concepts of “responsibility” and “obligation” are foreign to many of today’s young adults. More about that next week when we look at Stewardship.