Essential Elements of Church Management

Essential elements of church management should be based upon or spring forth from the essential elements or characteristics of the early Christian church community:

  • hospitality, especially to the poor, the outcast, the sinners;
  • spiritual nourishment, i.e., eating/breaking of the bread together;
  • compassion, mercy and forgiveness;
  • inclusiveness; and
  • service unto others.

The church is about community. Paul Bernier points out in his book Ministry in the Church: “Catholicism has always tended to see community as the central means whereby God’s grace and life is mediated … if ministry has any purpose at all, it is directed to nurturing the life and activity of the community — the church — as a whole.”


Two essential elements of church management are service and accountability.


In most profit and non-profit corporations, management is oriented to the mission or purpose of the business. In for-profit businesses, management is structured and oriented to make a profit for owners and other shareholders. In the case of the not-for-profit Catholic Church, management is (or should be) oriented to serving the community.

“The church is not motivated by earthly ambition but is interested in one thing only — to carry on the work of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who came into the world to bear witness to the truth, to save and not to judge, to serve and not to be served.”  (The Constitution On The Church In The Modern World, Gaudium et spes, Second Vatican Council)

Bernard P. Prusak in his book The Church Unfinisheddraws our attention to John 13:1-15: “The message is clear. For Jesus’ community and its leaders, service … is primary.”

The fact that the church is not motivated by profit does not mean that the church should not be managed to make a profit (or ‘surplus’ as it should be called in the case of a legal not-for-profit organization).  Managing any business for profit or surplus helps ensure that the business will at least not be operating at a loss.


It’s essential that church management be accountable. And while service-oriented management practices may change from parish to parish, financial management and accountability should not. For this reason, the ADNY requires that all churches in its diocese use the cloud-based, financial accounting software ParishSOFT/Connect Now. This enables the Archdiocese to monitor the income, fund allocations, investments and expenses of each church online.

There are, of course, other kinds of accountability and measures of accountability, such as: how well the church is meeting the spiritual needs of the community; how many children are enrolled in religious education classes: and to how many homebound parishioners is the Eucharist served.

In the new organizational model of the Catholic Church, a professional church manager works along side the pastor. The church manager is responsible and accountable for overseeing the financial management of the church along with other administrative duties such as office management, staff management, and building operations and maintenance management.

The church manager cannot be entirely accountable for the growth and ultimate success of the church. The growth of the church is measured in terms of numbers of new parishioners, new programs and new weekly donations.  The pastor, not the church manager, primarily influences these indicators. It’s the pastor that people come to be ministered to, not the church manager. This places the greatest accountability — for the survival and growth of the church — largely on the shoulders of the pastor.

Can there be a positive synergistic relationship between competent financial administration and the pastoral goals of a faith community. Yes, when the following occurs:

  1. there is agreement between pastors and managers about the goals of the church and the resources required and available to reach those goals; and
  2. there is transparency and regular communication between all parties.

In this manner, church financial managers are not pitted against those in the church charged with administering its pastoral goals and resources.

As the closing of so many Catholic churches in the recent past decade bears witness to, competent church financial administration is vital to achieving church goals. While the closures weren’t all the result of bad financial management, many can be attributed to fraud, lack of financial planning and oversight, and spending on large capital projects. As Cardinal Dolan said, “For too long, we have been in the business of maintaining buildings and structures that were established in the 19th and early 20th centuries to meet the needs of the people of that time, but which are not necessary to meet the needs of the church and its people as it exists today.”


The Ideal Parish

The management/infrastructure of the church of the future may have a few new positions (shaded in green):

The ultimate goal of a stewardship program is to turn the church parish into an all-inclusive Christian community.

Here’s one way to go about it:                                                                                                                    The Ideal Parish


Why an Employee Handbook?

In today’s increasingly litigious society, not even the church is immune from the predatory practices of those looking to use or beat the system for personal gain.

Let’s say you fire a church employee because he/she used a church computer to surf porn sites. If the use of a church computer in such a manner isn’t specifically prohibited in the church Employee Handbook, the former employee may claim they didn’t know the particular act was grounds for termination and sue the church.

So, when it comes to Employee Handbooks, the more comprehensive, the better.

Feel free to use the Employee Handbook (linked to below) as a starting point. You may want to add other sections/topics specific to your parish and to your state employment laws.

You’ll also want to substitute your compensation, benefits, time off and leaves of absence  particulars.

Most important, have your first and final drafts reviewed by an employment lawyer.

Employee Handbook

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Parish Planning Playbook

Can you answer these questions?

If your Director of Religious Education suddenly took ill and was unable to perform his/her duties, would a successor immediately be able to pick up where his/her predecessor left off?

If your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system shut down and was beyond repair, would you have the money in your budget to replace it?

Do you have a protocol in place for handling the media should they come knocking on your door?

Are you aware that your parish demographics are changing and, if so, have you figured out how you’re going to meet the spiritual and service needs of the new people? 

If you’re struggling with these questions, you and your parish will benefit greatly from a Pastoral Planning Playbook.

The benefit of pastoral planning is you and your colleagues will know where your church is now, where you want it to be, and how you are going to get it there.

Signs that you need pastoral planning:

  • Declining Sunday attendance.
  • Uneven commitment to the church.
  • Uncertainty that RCIA and CCD are doing the job.
  • Young people disengaging from the church.
  • Donations/contributions going down.
  • Inability to keep up with changing community demographics.

You’re welcome to use or lift from the Parish Planning Playbook linked to below. It’s written and designed to walk you, step-by-step, through a pastoral planning process. It also provides you with tools that will help you identify, evaluate and execute your goals.

Parish Planning Playbook

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It Takes Two!

This is the job description of the Church Manager (aka, Parish Manager or Parish Business Manager or Business Manager) as developed by the ADNY:

Job Description

The Parish Business Manager is a professional administrator supporting the pastor in the stewardship of the temporal activities of the parish. The business manager oversees the following specific areas of parish operations:

  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Property Management
  • Office Management

The business manager should be flexible in his/her approach to job responsibilities to assist the pastor in the management of the parish.

By following the financial policies and procedures, the business manager function ensures that the parish operates in compliance archdiocesan practices.

The business manager maximizes his or her effectiveness by accessing and utilizing archdiocesan support resources (i.e. associate director of finance, parish training director, chancery staff, etc.).

Specific Areas of Emphasis


  • Implements, maintains and ensures compliance with the archdiocesan Policy and Procedures manual.
  • Establishes, maintains and monitors an internal control system.
  • Documents and tracks revenue in accordance with Archdiocesan policies.
  • Prepares annual financial report for parishioners and submits a copy to the archdiocese.

Human Resources

  • Developments, implements and maintains a Personnel Policy.
  • Develops job descriptions, salary scales etc. for all parish employees.
  • Reviews the job descriptions and corresponding compensation of all positions ensuring that the duties and responsibilities are necessary in the execution of the parish mission.
  • Reviews all compensation packages to ensure that remuneration is within archdiocesan guidelines.

Property Maintenance

  • Develops a Business Plan for the effective management of all parish property.
  • Develops a Cost/Benefit Analysis to ensure that rental income adequately compensates for the cost of the facilities.
  • Ensures a regular schedule for maintenance for all buildings and grounds.
  • Maintains lease agreements, schedule of building use and compliance with diocesan policies to include but not limited to insurance compliance.
  • Works with [ADNY approved GM and vendors] for major maintenance projects.
  • Reviews and establishes service contracts.

Office Management

  • Administers all third party relationships of the parish including vendors.
  • Interfaces with the associate director and departments with the Catholic Center to ensure that the parish receives the professional support it needs.
  • Manages technology used by the parish.

NOTE to pastors who haven’t yet hired a church manager: Imagine being relieved of all of the above administrative responsibilities, enabling you to focus on your pastoral duties!

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