Fall 2013

Charles Zech

Welcome Remarks

Charles Zech
Director, Center for Church Management & Business Ethics

I am pleased to share with you the most recent issue of the Best Practices in Church Management Newsletter of Villanova University’s newly reconfigured Center for Church Management and Business Ethics (formerly the Center for the Study of Church Management). In this issue, we again cover a variety of topics, including budgeting, parish metrics and their uses, and compensation for those involved in parish ministry.

Michael J. Castrilli, senior client decision manager at Decision Lens,follows up on his very successful three-part series on the budget process by beginning a series on Program Management. This first installment, “The Church Program Management Assistant: Setting Goals, Reaping Benefits!” introduces issues involved in setting performance goals and objectives. Future installments will cover breaking down big projects into bite-size tasks, and managing complexity through program controls.

A complementary article to Michael’s Program Management piece is “The Role of Performance Metrics and Analytics in Churches: Money Ball for Parishes” which raises the issue of the importance of parishes measuring their activities and opens the question of what measures a parish should focus on beyond the obvious ones of attendance and financial contributions. At the end of the articles are links to our Facebook and Twitter pages, where you are invited to dialogue with other readers and contribute your thoughts on parish metrics.

Finally, in the “And The Survey Says” section, we examine some recently collected data on parish ministry compensation. The data was collected by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) as part of their work on the recently completed Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project. The project was funded by the Lilly Endowment. Readers are invited to download the entire report.

I would like to remind you of the educational opportunities available through the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics. In addition to our very successful on-line masters degree in church management awarded through the nationally-ranked and fully accredited Villanova School of Business, we also, in partnership with Our Sunday Visitor and AmericanChurch, offer a series of webinars on church management topics. This series presents the opportunity for an individual to earn a certificate in church management through the Villanova School of Business. The series began its third year in September, but it is not too late to register. Past presentations have been archived. Individuals interested in particular topics may participate in one or more of the specific webinars without pursuing the certificate. For more details, click here.

We hope that you find the information in this newsletter helpful. We appreciate your previous feedback and are happy to hear your feedback about the topics covered in this issue as well as topics that you would like to see covered in future issues.

Chuck Zech
Center for Church Management and Business Ethics

The Church Program Management Assistant: Setting Goals, Reaping Benefits!

Michael J. Castrilli
Decision Lens

Now, more than ever, church managers face a host of challenges and competing priorities.  There are declining enrollments, financial tensions, shortages of staff and volunteers -- and the constant pressure to "do more with less." Still, these organizational leaders are expected to complete programs on-scope, on-schedule, and on-budget. 

So, how can you get it all done -- given those constraints? Church managers need straightforward, solution-oriented techniques.  The Church Program Management Assistant is a series of brief articles that can help you imagine and execute successful programs through structured program planning.  Topics will include tips on how to establish performance goals and objectives, how to break down big projects into bite-size tasks, and how to manage complexity through program controls.

We're starting the series right where any church project should start: by thinking about where you want to end up. In the business world, this is called "establishing performance targets." You and I might simply call it "setting goals."  Either way, being clear at this stage will pay big rewards. It shows your congregation and other church leaders "what the dream is" and allows your progress to be measured. Goal-setting is also a great way to get people involved, once the real work begins.

To walk through the process of formulating effective goals, let’s use a mock example that can help illustrate the points in the process.  Next summer, the church will offer a Vacation Bible School (VBS).  The new VBS program is an exciting endeavor by the church community to engage young people -- but like most things, it's complicated.  The church has attempted a similar program in the past and few people signed up.  You can re-imagine this example to more closely simulate the challenge you're facing.

Seeing the Need for Well-Defined Goals

You would be amazed how often leaders skip the goal-setting step!  Eager leaders think it's better to "just get started." Others worry that lofty targets could make their hard work look like failure, if they fall short.  Still others assume that goals won't really help with the boots-on-the-ground work. 

Unfortunately, these excuses simply frustrate managers and the teams that support them. In our VBS example, think of two competing goals: 1) enroll as many kids as possible in the first year or 2) provide the richest experience possible to a smaller group in the first year. If you haven't defined which of those two "goals" you want to achieve, you will have a tough time prioritizing choices. Do you spend a lot of time, money and effort advertising the new VBS, in order to boost enrollment? Or do you save those resources to improve VBS content?

Without goals, questions like the ones above have no answers! Think of using your GPS to reach an unfamiliar location.  The first step is to input the address.  Otherwise, if you start driving without entering the address, when you make wrong turns, you will never hear that all too familiar GPS voice “Recalculating…make a U-Turn in 500 feet.”  Sure, without the GPS, you may still arrive where you are trying to go -- but you will probably be late, frustrated, and stressed!

By contrast, clear objectives will answer many questions before they're even asked.  So, paint the "end goal" picture early on. Ask others for their input. Allow your congregation and fellow church leaders to be heard when a new project is first being envisioned.

Tips for Setting Program Goals

Recognizing the need for goals, you may still wonder how to set goals that will be useful and realistic.  Below you'll find some best practices for general goal-setting, using the VBS program as an example. Again, you can tailor the tips below to any program or project in your church.

  • Establish goals that are outcome-oriented.  What are you trying to accomplish with this program?  What is the problem you are trying to solve? After the program is completed, what does success mean to the organization?
    • Goal: Increase the students' understanding of how the Bible can help us in our relationships with family, friends, and with God.
    • Goal: Provide an exciting program that gets young people involved in Church activities.
  • Establish goals that can be measured. Church programs often include more qualitative focused activities, but there are ways to put in place measureable goals.  The benefit of these types of goals is that you can clearly know when you have achieved the outcome.
    • Goal: Recruit 5 young adults to serve as teachers and 30 children to participate in the program.
  • Seek input and collaborate with others to help you with brainstorming ideas.  A team-oriented approach to goal setting helps create a culture of collaboration and accountability.  It is amazing to watch the creative process that unfolds when a group comes together to shares ideas.  When others are involved in the process of goal-setting, they also feel more accountable to help the program achieve success.
  • Keep it simple.  Do not worry about the number of goals you establish.  One or two well-established goals may be all that's necessary.  Goals help you and your team “keep your eyes on the prize.”  Remember, the purpose of establishing goals is to help you and all of those involved in your program know when you have achieved success. It will help drive all aspects of the program.

Reaping the Benefits of Performance Goals

If you're consistent about setting goals, you'll reap very real benefits in your church community.  For starters, the obvious: Goals can provide your team with a clear notion of success and a clear way to talk about results. If the VBS enrollment goal is 50 kids, you can congratulate your team as you reach milestones along the way. Each milestone is an opportunity to further motivate.  In this way, goals provide a "defining vision" that allows you to more effectively manage programs and initiatives.

But there are other benefits you might not immediately see.  That "defining vision" transfers down to your team -- allowing them to work more efficiently and independently. If a VBS volunteer knows that the program's main goal is to enroll as many kids as possible, she won't have to ask you whether to print up advertisement fliers -- she will know to do it instinctively.  Because everyone understands "where we're heading," that vision builds ownership and accountability among staff and volunteers. It allows people to work together intuitively, which adds value in all areas of your church community.

The final and most important benefit of establishing goals in a church setting is that you'll know when you're getting off track!  Your project may best serve your church not by being the biggest or the flashiest -- but instead, by efficiently achieving a humble, well-defined goal.

Questions?  Comments?  Feel free to email Michael Castrilli at, or join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

The Role of Performance Metrics and Analytics in Churches: Money Ball for Parishes

Charles E Zech
Director, Center for Church Management and Business Ethics

Tell me about the overall quality of your parish. Would you describe it as above average? Average?  Below average?

No matter how you respond, I have a second question for you: How do you know?

Most of what we think we know about our parishes is based on fleeting impressions or anecdotal evidence. Very little is based on sound empirical evidence. In fact, the only data that most parishes collect are measures of financial giving and attendance (“bucks and butts”) along with some of the sacraments administered.

Impressions and anecdotes are helpful in establishing hypotheses, but these hypotheses require data to be tested. Because of advances in technology, data is more available today than ever before. Strategies for enhancing parish life have shifted from managing tangible assets to developing knowledge-based means of building and deploying a church’s intangible assets.

These assets include staff and volunteer knowledge; parishioner relationships; and innovative cultures. In order to take advantage of these strategies, parishes need some measures of performance (metrics) and a willingness to analyze the data to make improvements (analytics).

Parishes are very poor at developing measures that are useful not only in revealing information about overall parish quality but also in  providing information about specific elements of parish life that could be used to evaluate and improve each of them.

We need data to answer questions such as

  • How will we know when we are accomplishing our mission?
  • How will we know that we have impacted our parishioners?
  • How will we know how effective the church staff is?
  • How will we know our programs are effective?
  • How will we know how to allocate our financial resources?

Baseball fans will be familiar with the book Money Ball and the movie of the same title which starred Brad Pitt. It told the story of the Oakland A’s, a baseball team located in a small media market that was trying to compete with teams located in larger markets. Realizing that they had limited resources, the A’s recognized that they had to look for ways to utilize the resources that they had more effectively. They began to implement an analytical approach in evaluating their players’ talent. Rather than rely solely on their scouts’ intuitive impression of players, they began gathering data that measured the factors that they believed to be associated with a winning team. That is, they began to rely on metrics and analytics to make important decisions.

Does this tale sound familiar? An organization with limited resources, trying to accomplish its mission by working smarter? That strikes me as the position most parishes find themselves in. Just as the A’s recognized that they needed to do a better job of measuring and analyzing their activities in order to make more efficient use of the resources that they had available, so too parishes need to adopt an analytical approach to enable decision makers to allocate their scarce resources to areas where they will do the most good. That is, where the parish can best carry out its stewardship responsibility.

If a baseball team thinks that employing performance metrics and analytics are critical to winning games, how much more seriously should a parish view their importance in winning souls?

Most of us are familiar with the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. The parable has a modern day analogy in the use of performance metrics and analytics.

Parishes that fail to make any effort to measure their performance are like the servant who buried the talents. Parishes that learn what to measure and how to do it are like the moderately efficient servant. Parishes that not only measure but actually use performance metrics to improve their ministry are like the highly productive servant.

This is not to imply that the task of establishing useful parish performance metrics is an easy one. It is difficult if not impossible to measure the transformation of a heart or to count spirituality. Parishes need to settle for metrics that are easier to obtain, but less direct. These include inputs such as those related to the quality of the paid staff. We assume that getting the inputs right will accomplish the goal. Or we could employ proxy output measures, like attendance, that correspond to our goals.

There are generally three sources for the data used in developing parish performance metrics. They include tracking key activities; surveys; and financial measures.

Tracking activities involves maintaining records such as attendance at functions or the number of members actively engaged in a ministry. Surveys can be administered periodically to parishioners in order to quantify factors that are subjective or personal, such as opinions on the parish’s priorities or the quality of its religious education program. Financial analysis could be used to ensure that the parish budget reflects the parish’s vision. This involves allocating expenditures (both direct and indirect costs) to the various parish programs.

A parish’s performance metrics can’t be viewed in a vacuum. They need to be associated with the goals set forth in the parish pastoral plan. Presumably these goals lead to objectives that are measureable. Every element of the plan should have one or more metrics. Two important uses of any data collected are to establish Key Performance Indicators and to indicate parish progress through dashboards.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) are measures that quantify management objectives which are related to the parish’s goals and objectives, Along with setting targets or thresholds they enable the measurement of a strategic performance. They are commonly used to help an organization define and evaluate how successful it is, typically in terms of making progress towards its long-term organizational goals. As the name implies, they serve as visible indicators of success.

KPI’s specify what is to be measured, not how much. KPI’s can be monitored on a consistent basis for use in dashboard.

Like the performance assessment of staff, KPIs should be SMART. That is

  • have a Specific purpose for the church
  • Measureable
  • Achievable
  • Related to the success of the church
  • Predefined Time period.

They should not be defined in such a way that their fulfillment would be hampered by factors viewed as non-controllable by the church or individuals responsible. 

For example, a parish whose strategy includes increasing offertory giving might set a KPI as the number of parishioners utilizing on-line giving. They might set their objective as one-third of the parish households contributing electronically within the next 12 months. That KPI clearly meets the SMART standard, and could easily be demonstrated on a parish dashboard. Another KPI might be to have ten percent of parishioners engaged in small faith groups. That also meets the SMART standard and can be displayed on a dashboard.

Dashboards are reporting mechanisms tied to an operational goal that deliver parish intelligence in a graphical form. They are created to summarize sometimes large amounts of data into a strategic snapshot of the most important data.  A dashboard provides a single, easy-to-understand view of critical operational data. Dashboards help parish leaders focus on the things that matter, giving them the information they need to effectively monitor their parish’s performance – and take action.

Just as the automobile's dashboard provides all of the critical information needed to operate the vehicle at a glance, a parish dashboard serves a similar purpose. That is true whether it is using it to make strategic decisions for the church, run the daily operations of a team, or perform basic tasks.  The purpose is to efficiently keep in touch with the information needed to succeed.

A parish dashboard should include a mix of past, present, and future indicators that address the needs of parishioners and other stakeholders (e.g., the diocese).  Data contained on the dashboard should be consistent (i.e., both the measurement definitions remain consistent and the method of data collection remain stable over time) and comparative (the measures are benchmarked either with a parish’s historical data or with other parishes).

The information displayed in a dashboard should consist primarily of high-level summaries, including exceptions, to communicate at a glance. It should quickly tell what's happening, but not why it's happening, just like the gauges, meters, and indicator lights on a car. Diagnosis requires further investigation and detail. A dashboard can serve as the starting point for this investigation, letting parish leadership drill down into further detail to perform an analysis.

For most parishes, weekend Mass attendance is a natural dashboard measure. So too is the amount of weekly collections. Other financial measures, such as net cash available might show up on a parish dashboard as might nonfinancial measures such as attendance at ministry meetings or participation in parish social events. Regular surveys of parishioner attitudes are also good candidates for a dashboard.

The particular elements that comprise KPI’s and dashboards would differ for almost every parish. But it is important that parishes begin to measure what’s important, if they aren’t already doing do.

Unfortunately many parish leaders have neither the temperament nor the training to know how to measure what matters. Not everyone wants accountability. Furthermore, too often church databases and other information systems not designed to provide needed information. But even the early church saw the importance of data. There are several references to the numerical growth of the church and its geographic expansion throughout the Acts of the Apostles.

But the most compelling justification for churches to take performance metrics and analytics seriously is that they are, at their most basic, good stewardship.  As long as parishes have limited resources with which to carry out God’s work on earth, they have a responsibility to utilize every tool at their disposal to use those resources effectively. It is a well-accepted maxim that you get what you reward, and you reward what you measure. That process starts with parish metrics and analytics.

We would like you to join in a conversation over which church metrics are most valuable. Please go to our Facebook Page, or send us a Tweet to continue the conversation, and share your best practices in church metrics.

An edited version of this article appeared in The Ledger, a publication of the National Association of Church Business Administration, Volume 32, Number 3 (Fall 2013), pp.42-43

And the Survey Says… What Do We Know About Parish Worker Compensation?

The Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project was a collaborative effort by five Catholic national ministry organizations interested in pursuing pastoral excellence through research and dialogue. It was funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. Research supporting the project was provided by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The study included a number of components, including surveys of a single parish informant, parishioners, and parish leaders (staff, parish advisory council members, and other parish leaders, including both paid and volunteer, ministerial and non-ministerial). This latter survey appeared as a report, “Perspectives from Parish Leaders: U.S. Parish Life and Ministry”, authored by CARA researcher Mark Gray. A total of 532 responses were received from parish leaders. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents were female. The margin of error is 4.2%.

The survey included some interesting findings about staff compensation.

A. Financial Assistance for Education and Formation

Respondents were asked about the source of any financial assistance that they might have received to educate and form them for their parish ministry or service. As Table 1 shows, the most common source was from the Parish.

Table 1
Education/Formation Financial Support

Fall 2013 Table 1

The response “other” included organizations like the Knights of Columbus or foundations, along family and other private donations.

B. Salary and Wages

Table 2 Provides information on Salary and Wages for those who had indicated that they received compensation

Table 2
Salary and Wages

Fall 2013 Table 2

Of interest is the fact the median salary/wage for men was slightly higher than it was for women ($32,000 vs. $31,000).

C. Satisfaction with Compensation

Respondents were asked about the availability of some typical fringe benefits, along with their satisfaction with each component of their compensation.  Their responses are shown in Table 3.

Table 3
Availability and Satisfaction with Compensation

Fall 2013 Table 3

Finally, 16% of the respondents reported that they minister in more than one parish and 18% of the respondents who are paid indicated that they held another non-ministry job outside of the parish.

How do these findings compare with your compensation?  Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

The full report can be downloaded from the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership website or directly from here.

For More Information

Center for Church Management
Villanova University
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085
Tel: (610) 519-6015
Fax: (610) 519-6054