Priests Tap Resources to Help with the Business Aspect of Running a Parish

Running a parish has become increasingly complex as more priests are running larger parishes and some multiple parishes. To help develop the skills now necessary, many priests are turning to organizations that have been formed to provide training and help to priests. The National Leadership Roundtable of Church Management one of these. Formed as a nonprofit organization of laity, religious and clergy working together to promote best practices and accountability in the management, finances, communications and human resource development of the Church in the United States. They take their programs to dioceses that request them and provide a roadmap for the bishops and clergy to accomplish their particular goals. Lundhold-Eades founded the Leadership Roundtable 12 years ago.

“Priests often ask for help with understanding the finances of their parish,” said Lundhold-Eades, “At one time, all they needed to know was how to get the collection counted and to manage the cash flow with the church secretary. Another area is managing people, which has become more complex.” Add to that the role of working with parish councils and the relationship between pastor, staff and lay leaders. “I feel positive about the priests I see throughout the country, and I feel confident in their leadership,” Lundhold-Eades said. “We offer them the skills so that running a parish is manageable and they can focus on the real reason that they got ordained.”

Another valuable resource is The Center for Church Management at Villanova University. Students both in the United States and abroad are seeking to learn the best ways to manage a parish’s finances, personnel, and other nonspiritual needs. Since the course started in 2004, about 130 students have taken certificate programs, and 100 enrolled in the master’s degree program, all taught online. According to Charles Zech, faculty director of the program and professor of economics, about one-fourth of the students are clergy and 15 percent are Protestants.  “They’re learning better church management at all levels, better stewardship of resources, and internal financial control like handling and protecting the Sunday collections so that there’s no temptation to embezzle,” he said. “Financial management is crucial even if a church is flush with money.”

A broad range of students and churches participate in the program. Large parishes might need the expertise of full-time professional managers. In small parishes, the pastor might ask the church secretary to handle the bookkeeping, and she needs to learn how to do it effectively.  The course’s online availability has attracted a number of priests and also a group of women religious in Africa who want to improve their management skills. Some seminarians are enrolled in the program to prepare for future pastoral assignments.