The Parish Leader
The Rev. Patrick Agbeko ’21 MS from Ghana
Villanova is preparing the next generation
of church stewards and scholars
The need for strong church leaders who can guide a faith-based organization in a secular world is as old as Christianity itself. While the concept of church management certainly isn’t new, what it entails has changed quite a bit.
Like any business leader today, a church leader in the 21st century needs a foundational knowledge that touches on all aspects of running an organization, including management, human resources, technology, law, finance and ethics. But unlike most business leaders, church leaders need that practical know-how to be grounded in the spiritual principles and language of the Christian faith.
In 2004, the Villanova School of Business established the Center for Church Management—the first of its kind in the nation to advance knowledge in this specialized niche. “Churches are unique institutions, and it is important that we distinguish what works in a faith-based setting from what works elsewhere,” says Professor Emeritus Charles Zech, PhD, the center’s founding faculty director. “The study of church management needs to be holistic, combining both a knowledge of functional business areas and a keen understanding of how churches work.”
Nearly two decades later, Villanova is firmly established as a global leader in the field. Christian churches across the US and the world turn to VSB for research and education in church management that emphasizes sound business approaches to the unique management issues they face every day.
VSB offers the world’s first and only Master of Science in Church Management (MSCM) program, teaching business best practices in a Christian context of mission and ministry. Each year, 50 to 100 church leaders—clergy and lay—from all over the world enroll in classes on the administrative and management operations of churches, dioceses and apostolates.
In addition to the master’s program, VSB offers non-credit certificate programs in Church Management, Catholic School Management and Church Management for Men in Formation, and faculty researchers and research fellows at the center generate groundbreaking interdisciplinary scholarship in all aspects of church management.
“Villanova has been at the vanguard of developing and formalizing church management as a field to educate and assist managers of church and other religious organizations,” says University Provost Patrick G. Maggitti, PhD. “It makes sense that we have been at the forefront—we have a leading School of Business known for academic rigor and innovation, applied research, and hands-on learning opportunities, all grounded in the Augustinian Catholic tradition.”
This specialized education is more in demand than ever. In recent years, VSB has seen dramatic increases in enrollment in the MSCM program and an expanding global reach—with students from rural Rwanda to North Pole, Alaska, and everywhere in between.
“This degree means something in the world of churches—not just in terms of the fundamental knowledge it provides but also the experience of being part of the Villanova community,” says Matthew Manion ’11 MS, the David Grenon Family Faculty Director of the Center for Church Management.
From chief financial officers to music directors, people at various levels and stages of their careers come to Villanova for the skills and education they need. There is a mix of experienced church leaders looking for new skills and perspectives, young ministers looking to build their knowledge, and seasoned professionals who are transitioning from secular or nonprofit work to a second career in the church.
“Our cohorts are made up of clergy and laypeople who are called to be our leaders in the church,” says Chesley Turner ’05 CLAS, ’19 MS, director of Villanova’s Center for Church Management. “We serve a variety of people who are united in a mission and in a calling, but not necessarily in their background and their experience.”
About 30 percent of master’s students are ordained and 70 percent are laypeople, a dynamic that Turner says aligns with the future shared responsibility of leadership in the church. In the current master’s cohort, 80 percent are Catholic and 20 percent are part of other Christian denominations.
That’s why the MSCM program is designed to meet the needs of an international body of church leaders and managers of all Christian faiths. That includes pastors and pastoral associates, parish business managers and youth ministers, Catholic school leaders, directors of diocesan departments, leaders of religious orders, seminarians in formation, and those engaged in managing social-service ministries.
After a one-week residency on campus, this two-year graduate business program is delivered completely online in a part-time format, which allows church leaders all over the globe to stay in their parishes while enrolled—so they can continue to serve their ministry while advancing their education and scholarship in this important field. It includes components that church leaders can watch to learn on their own time, plus live seminars each week where they can engage with professors and peers in real time.
“The charism of the Augustinians is community, and that plays such an important role in this program,” Turner says. “In addition to being taught by top professors, you learn so much from your peers who are facing the same challenges and opportunities as you are.”
VSB and the center also offer a non-credit certificate in Church Management, which is awarded upon completion of a series of 12 webinars. “We realized we could efficiently disseminate some of the knowledge we’ve been creating for the master’s program to a much broader audience,” Manion says.
The response has been overwhelming, and the certificate program has been at capacity for the last several years. Given the high demand for this important knowledge, the center saw an opportunity to serve even more specialized niches within church management. In 2021, the center launched a certificate in Catholic School Management, as well as a certificate in Church Management specifically for seminarians or recently ordained priests, who spend a week on campus in the summer, learning about finance, human resources and strategy through the lens of the church.
In addition to attracting attention and interest from around the world, the center’s programs and initiatives have also drawn significant donor support, notably from David Grenon ’61 VSB, who endowed the faculty director position, and Kathleen and Michael Castellano, who generously supported the establishment of the center’s endowment and scholarships to support students in all of its programs.
“There are unique elements of theology, of canon and civil law, of ecclesiology that fall outside of business, and so we teach with colleagues across the University to provide a full picture.”
Matthew Manion ’11 MS
PARTNERING WITH CHURCH LEADERS
To support the continued learning development of church leaders, the center has several diocesan and archdiocesan partners across the nation—from smaller dioceses like Fall River, Mass., and Tucson, Ariz., to two of the largest dioceses in the country, the Archdiocese of New York and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The center checks in with these partners about emerging needs and opportunities that might inform future research or content for its curriculum, and many church leaders and professionals from these dioceses enroll in the MSCM program or non-credit certificate programs in church management at Villanova.
The MSCM program and the certificate programs in Church Management address management issues from a faith-based perspective—from human resource management in a ministry setting and strategic planning for parishes to ecclesiology and church history.
“Our programs are very unique, in that the curriculum is built in the language of the church,” Turner says. “Each course is meticulously designed for church leaders.” And all of the applied materials come directly from real churches and faith-based organizations, such as the spreadsheets and budgets in the Finance course and the case studies in the Organizational Management course.
The holistic curriculum covers every major facet of managing churches and incorporates multiple disciplines. “There are unique elements of theology, of canon and civil law, of ecclesiology that fall outside of business, and so we teach with colleagues across the University to provide a full picture,” Manion says. “The research we sponsor, the courses we teach, the curricula we design—it all has to be interdisciplinary.”
In addition to VSB faculty, professors from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences teach in both the master’s and certificate programs. In some cases, they teach together, like the introductory graduate course on leadership in religious organizations, organizational ethics and Catholic social thought. Team taught by Manion, Anna Bonta Moreland, PhD, professor of Humanities, and Brett Wilmot, PhD, associate director of the Ethics Program, the course provides the foundation for the MSCM program and requires a one-week residency on Villanova’s campus during the first week of June.
The principles and practices of management, ethics and theology are woven together to develop a model of effective servant leadership, says Dr. Moreland. “The strength of this program lies in the fact that it is truly interdisciplinary,” she says. “The MSCM program is so important for anyone in a church leadership role today, as parishes across the country undergo a paradigm shift in how they serve their congregants.”
The center is dedicated to meeting the deepest needs of the church not only by providing education but also by investing in the creation of new knowledge. “It goes without saying that building the field of church management involves both a teaching component and a research component,” says Dr. Zech, an economist and prolific scholar who is internationally recognized for his research in church administration.
In 2017, the center launched a new program to sponsor research fellows and mentors who are performing groundbreaking research on all aspects of church finance. The fellowships were made possible by $3.5 million in grants awarded to the center by the Lilly Endowment’s National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders and generous gifts from the Center Advisory Council and other Villanvoa benefactors.
“Research in this area is so important because managing a faith-based entity is different from managing a proprietary firm or even a nonprofit organization,” explains Dr. Zech, who serves as one of the mentors in the program. “The vast majority of church managers come from the proprietary and nonprofit sectors, and we can’t rely on research that has been conducted in the context of these other organizational types.”
The center awards up to 12 one-year, $10,000 research fellowships annually to faculty within business schools, seminaries and theology departments, as well as practitioners and pastors. Some are emerging researchers and others are accomplished scholars who are new to the field of church management.
Their charge is to create research that’s both academically rigorous and beneficial to practitioners. “Oftentimes church leaders are making some of their most important decisions without the benefit of evidence-based data,” Manion says. “Villanova can contribute research to inform these decisions and establish much-needed benchmarks.”
As part of the fellowship, the scholars work with a group of mentors who are top experts in the field. “In many cases, the people who are applying for these fellowships have been reading the work of these researchers for years, and now they’re sitting in a room with them,” Manion says. The mentors don’t play an active role in creating the research—they act as a sounding board, answering questions, reading drafts and offering general guidance based on their expertise.
“As an Augustinian Catholic institution, part of our philosophy is that we search for truth together,” Manion says. “Through this fellowship program, we’re searching for new knowledge, for truth, about how church management can be done most effectively.”
The interdisciplinary research the fellows are producing provides new data and insights on a wide variety of issues and areas that are vital to ensuring the future of a healthy church. Since the program began, the center has sponsored 32 fellows. There are 12 research fellows who have work in progress, including Wesley Proctor, EdD, assistant teaching professor of Public Administration, and Marquis Coates, MPA, Success Program and Engagement coordinator, in Villanova’s Center for Access, Success and Achievement.
Dr. Proctor and Coates are conducting research on the impact of urban youth ministries and the economic challenges they face. “Urban youth ministry is different from any other ministry because you’re dealing with a lot of economic, cultural and socioeconomic challenges, and yet, there's not a lot of research that’s been done in this area,” Coates says. “Our advisers have recommended that we continue to build on this research because these findings are so needed for practitioners in the field.”
Already, 20 fellows have completed projects. Those include:
- Maureen Day, PhD, associate professor of Religion and Society at the Franciscan School of Theology at the University of San Diego, who explored the cultural understandings of stewardship among Hispanic Catholics and examined the strategies pastors of predominantly Hispanic parishes use to encourage giving.
- Stephen J. Porth, PhD, professor of Management at the Haub School of Business at St. Joseph’s University, who studied three different models of funding Catholic school education.
- Danjuma Gibson, PhD, LPC, professor of Pastoral Care at Calvin Theological Seminary, who explored the economic impact of corporate investment and gentrification on Black churches in Chicago, and is now looking at Atlanta in a second study.
“We’re building a growing community of scholars, and we’re investing in the creation of new knowledge in this field, incorporating that research into our coursework and getting it out in the world,” Manion says.
Many of these fellows have published their research in leading academic journals in disciplines ranging from theology and ethics to economics and management, but it’s not just for the scholarly world. Villanova hosts regular webinars to get this valuable information into the hands of practitioners who need it.
“We have a responsibility to be looking at these kinds of questions and providing research to help church leaders make the decisions that they have to make on a daily basis,” Manion says. “Because if we don’t, who will?” ■