success stories


Study says larger parishes more cost-efficient

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

Catholics give less to their parishes than do members of other Christian denominations because larger Catholic parishes are more cost-efficient, according to a new nationwide study.

"Larger Catholic parishes can provide programs and services at a lower per-household cost than that required of much smaller non-Catholic congregations," it said.

The study, "Financing Catholic Parishes in the United States: A National and Regional Comparison," was written by Joseph Claude Harris, an independent research analyst, and Mary Gautier, senior research associate for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

It was based on Sunday collection and parish expense data for 2000 -- collected in 2001 -- from about 3,000 of the nation's 18,500 Catholic parishes. The questions were asked as part of the National Parish Inventory project of CARA, an independent Catholic research organization based at Georgetown University in Washington.

"Generally the average cost to provide programs to Catholics in the United States declines as the number of registered households increases," the study reported. "Parishes with less than 800 registered households averaged a cost of $444 per member (household); parishes with registrations above 1,000 households cost $337 per household to operate."

The study focused on parish-registered Catholics, who make up about two-thirds of Americans who identify themselves as Catholic.

"This registered population probably donated the bulk of total parish revenue that amounted to $7.6 billion" nationwide in 2000, it said.

Nationally, the average Catholic household registered in a parish contributed $438 a year to the parish, it said.

The study asked only about annual parish income from Sunday and holy day collections, other annual income, annual salaries and benefits for parish personnel and other annual operating expenses. It specifically excluded school income and expenses, parish subsidies to schools and building fund drives.

In regional breakdowns, the study found "an enormous variation in receipts and household gifts for regions across the country."

"Average parish revenue ranged from a low of $266,053 in the Midwest to $554,419 in the South Atlantic portion of the country," it said.

While Midwest parishes had the lowest average income, however, they had the highest average giving per household, $662. The average parish in the Midwest states -- North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri -- had only 402 registered households, less than half the national average of 935.

In the Pacific region -- Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California -- average parish income was almost $550,000, or $140,000 more than the national average, it said. But the average number of registered households per parish was 1,683, or 80 percent higher than the national average. The average giving per household was $326, lowest in the nation.

"Catholic fund-raisers regularly wonder why Catholics do not match the giving rate of at least mainline Protestants," the study said. "This research report indicates that Catholics give at a rate of 1.04 percent of the median household income for all American households in the entire United States. Members of Protestant denominations normally donate at least twice the Catholic percentage."

The reason Catholic parishes can survive with the lower giving, it said, can be found in "the notion of economies of scale."

"In general, the average household parish cost decreased when the number of registered parish households increased," it said.

It found a negative correlation coefficient of -.856 when comparing parish size with average household giving. In other words, for every $100 the average family gives in a 1,000-household parish, the average family in a parish twice that size would give only $85.60.

Gautier said the study is helpful for comparisons on the "macro level," explaining differences between regions of the country or between states.

"When you get down to the individual parish, it loses its explanatory power," she said, because the study deals with the averages of a large number of parishes, flattening out the significant variations that can occur from one parish to another.

An advance copy of the study was given to Catholic News Service. Gautier said it would not be published in print form but would be made available in September in a computer format that can be downloaded from CARA's Internet site (cara.georgetown.edu).