Friday, March 19, 2010

Marginalized Catholics give more

DOR's annual Stewardship Day is scheduled for Saturday, April 24 at Fairport's  Church of the Assumption. According to a note on the Catholic Courier's web site, this year's keynote speaker "will be Charles Zech, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University and the author of more than 75 books."

One of Dr. Zech's many books is "Why Catholics Don't Give ... And What Can Be Done About It."   A quick glance at this book on Google Books shows Dr. Zech to be a very interesting choice. 

For instance, on pages 54-56 the author reviews the research on the relationship between belief and giving level (reformatted for clarity; my emphasis):

[N]ot many researchers have considered the effect of specific religious beliefs on giving, perhaps because they've concluded that churches are unwilling to modify their teachings merely to attract larger contributions. Those few studies that have looked at the effect of beliefs have always concluded that parishioners with more orthodox beliefs and more conservative attitudes on moral issues contribute more.

For example, John Hilke (1980) compared the effect of religious orthodoxy on contributions across a number of Protestant denominations. He found it to have a strong effect on religious giving.

Andrew Greely, in another study that he coauthored with William McCready and Kathleen McCourt (1976), found a moderate relationship between contributions and both people's agreement with Church teachings and their reluctance to criticize priests.

Dean Hoge and Fenggang Yang (1994) found that Catholics who do the following tended to he more generous givers: those who prayed more often, believed in life after death, considered the Bible to be an important guide in making life decisions, regard Church teaching as being an important guide in making life decisions, believe their faith to be free of doubts, and consider premarital sex to be always wrong.

Another study, by D'Antonio et al. (1989), reported that Catholics who agreed with the Church's position on artificial contraception, abortion, and punishment of dissenting theologians, contributed more. But those who approved of some of the Church's more liberal positions, such as the Bishops' letters on the nuclear arms race and the economy, and the notion of the preferential option for the poor, also gave more.

D'Antonio et al., also looked at the effect of attitudes about Church authority on contributions. They found that parishioners who agree that Church leaders should have the final say on what is morally right or wrong regarding both abortion and birth control contributed more than did others. Those who thought these should be joint decisions between the leadership and members gave the next most. The lowest givers were those who felt that abortion and birth control should be individual decisions.

We can conclude from all of this that it is the willingness to accept the Church's official position, and the acknowledgement of its teaching authority, as much as the Church's stance on any one specific issue, that motivates people to contribute more.

So it would appear that it is the conservative or orthodox Catholic, the very Catholic that many in DOR spend so much time and effort marginalizing, who tends to be the biggest donor to the Church.

Maybe that was part of the reasoning behind the near desecration of St. Stan's during the production of last fall's CMA promo video.  Perhaps someone thought that a veneer of orthodoxy would lead the orthodox to give even more.

Be that as it may, one wonders if Dr. Zech has any ideas on how to get more more money out of DOR's many progressive Catholics.


kkollwitz said...

This observation reminds me of the content of Who Really Cares, written a few years ago.

Nerina said...

Hi Mike,

I have been meaning to read this book for years now. I may have to place it in my shopping cart on Amazon.

I am not surprised by his assertions. I often find those who don't give to church (and there are many people not giving much if anything to church) usually say things like, "well, the church has all kinds of money anyway." I've also heard people say that the government takes care of poor people through taxes.

I can't remember the last homily I heard about our Christian duty to help those in need. It seems our church leadership has bought the "government can do it" argument, too. I think we are also afraid to call people out for their materialistic and consumptive lifestyles. I live in an affluent area, and I can only imagine the reaction if our priest suggested lifestyle changes.

It will be interesting to see what this author says at the stewardship conference.

Mike said...


Considering that DOR's Mass attendance numbers have been falling steadily for at least 8 years, I suspect there are more than a few parishes starting to feel the financial pinch.

DOR made a lame attempt at stopping the bleeding with its anemic Spirit Alive! program but, as far as I know, that had no effect.

Perhaps it's just my cynicism showing but "How To Get More And More Money Out Of Fewer And Fewer Catholics" ought to be a popular topic these days.