Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Saving Your Parish

In the previous post “Going, going…,” about the closing of two churches in Christ the Redeemer Parish, I referred to a parish death spiral. This is when a parish gets caught in the cycle of declining attendance/collections, and to remedy the problems, merges with other parishes and/or closes churches. This leads to still lower attendance and collections, but the “solution” is applied again and again.

What can you do when your parish is so far in the red? Sadly, if your parish is in the situation of Christ the Redeemer Parish, it’s already too late. Your parish is dead, but no one has called time yet.
The key is to avoid this situation in the first place by acting immediately when the original issues appear:

1.       People aren’t attending Mass. Mass attendance is a better indicator than registered households because many people stay on the rolls long after they’ve left. The people in the pews are the people giving money. Christ the Redeemer Parish has lost two-thirds of their weekend attendees since 2000.

When you fall so far, so fast, there are two likely causes: a) Personnel issue/controversy; b) Parish has eliminated Masses/closed churches. If b), you’re already in the death spiral. If a), get to work solving the problem.

2.       The parish is struggling to meet expenses. This often goes hand-in-hand with issue one, but not always. Maybe expenses have increased while collections are flat. Maybe the parish has been living off bequests.

The first step is to cut expenses to the bone and then cut some more. This means eliminating staff positions because it’s likely the only big expense you can control. The second step is to start a serious fund-raising campaign, making sure that parishioners understand that their parish and church are at stake

Unfortunately, parishes usually ignore an issue, act too late, or don’t act aggressively enough. These are difficult, unpleasant problems, and the tendency is to apply half-measures and hope it’s sufficient. It never is. Some parishes limp on for years, but they’re already in the death spiral. For more information on the church closing cycle, see “Close. Cluster. Close. Repeat.” As is typical in the Diocese of Rochester, Christ the Redeemer Parish followed the closing/clustering cycle

Note that this post assumes that when a church closes, it is due to genuine financial problems. That’s not always the case, as people at the former St. Thomas the Apostle Parish learned.-- Susan M.


  1. They'll never cut lay staff in this diocese. That would go against Bishop Clark's vision for the lay-run Church. The result is parishes are bled dry to pay salaries for a bloated, unnecessary lay staff.

  2. This diocese may have a somewhat different character in the next year.

  3. Get rid of priests and there goes the masses. Get rid of masses and there goes the priests. Either way is a "win" for those who want a lay-run diocese. Of course, the parishioners also go away, leaving nothing and no one for the lay leaders to lead. Sounds like a plan...if you're the devil.