Larry W. Boone, Ph.D.
Chapters he contributed to A Concise Guide to Catholic Church Management (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2010).
Reviewed by Mark F. Fischer
Five chapters out of twelve in the Concise Guide are written by Larry W. Boone, Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University:
- Chapter 3, “Time Management,”
- Chapter 6, “The Parish and Service Quality,”
- Chapter 7, “Knowing Whom the Parish Serves: Segmenting the Market,”
- Chapter 8, “Assessing Parishioner Satisfaction,” and
- Chapter 9, “Evaluating Parish Performance.”
In contrast to Sr. Margaret John Kelly’s chapters, which employ the traditional vocabulary of the Catholic parish, Boone’s chapters seem to reflect more the world of corporate life and business administration. That being said, the chapters apply contemporary marketing theory to the parish in a provocative and refreshing way.
3. Time Management
Chapter Three on “Time Management” promises “some insights into the theory and practice of ‘time management’ from both the personal and organization perspectives,” says Boone, who correctly notes that “The pastor or administrator is ultimately responsible for stewardship of all assets and talents” (42) in the parish. This includes the time of staff members and volunteers.
After a brief survey of “attitudes toward time,” Boone divides the chapter into two blocks of material: (1) doing less and (2) working faster. Each of these two blocks contain sound insights from management theorists, and doubtless a pastor should “do less” by delegating more and “work faster” by more efficiently completing his tasks. But in regard to the pastor’s role, Boone seems surprisingly deaf to nuance.
Effective pastors spend time and develop relationships with parishioners. Boone’s advice may seem irrelevant to this aspect of being a good shepherd. By discussing the topic of “setting priorities” under the heading of “working faster,” Boone overlooks a fundamental aspect of pastoral care. Good pastors do want to develop relationships with parishioners efficiently, but do we want them to hurry the process, rapidly checking off relationships like items on a “to-do” list?
6. The Parish and Service Quality
Boone’s Chapter Six on “The Parish and Service Quality” starts out with another example of deafness to nuance, as Boone repeatedly describes parishioners as “customers.” To be sure, he concedes that “Catholics do not attend Mass to buy a product or to be entertained” and that they are “not really ‘customers’” (107). But he urges pastors to put themselves into the “customer’s shoes” (107), to provide “excellent customer service” (107), and to “put the customer first” (109). The repeated reference to congregants as customers suggests a limited sensitivity on Boone’s part to the way parishioners identify themselves.
That being said, Boone is undoubtedly right that insisting upon the church precept about weekly Mass attendance may well signal a “non-service attitude.” Calling people to worship by insisting on their obligation differs tremendously from the invitation that a beautiful and hospitable liturgy offers.
Boone’s chapter has an excellent premise: “Since so many for-profits and nonprofits have improved their levels of service,” he writes, “organizations that have not worked hard to improve their customer service have fallen behind” (106). It is very likely that part of the drop-off in Mass attendance in US churches, especially among young people, is due to their perception that the church is not serving their needs. When was the last time that a pastor surveyed, as Boone recommends, how his people view the quality of pastoral service that they receive?
7. Knowing Whom the Parish Serves: Segmenting the Market
Boone’s chapter on “segmenting” the parish “market” applies to the parish the concept of consumer analysis. “Segmenting a market,” writes Boone, “involves dividing a large population” of parishioners “into subsets according to their common needs, desires and habits” (129). Once managers have segmented the parish, “the tasks of communicating, planning, budgeting, etc. become more focused and manageable” (129).
Although it may irritate parish leaders to read about their congregation as a set of “markets” to which a “product” is directed, the application of market analysis to the parish is provocative. To think of the parish as a single homogeneous group is unrealistic, and Boone provokes the reader to explicitly consider what every parish practitioner already intuits, namely, that one style of liturgy or pastoral care does not meet everyone’s needs.
8. Assessing Parishioner Satisfaction
Boone’s essay on “Assessing Parishioner Satisfaction,” chapter eight in the Concise Guide, invites readers to consider whether the parish satisfies parishioners. Satisfaction is defined as “a psychological concept representing the fulfillment or gratification of a need, desire, or appetite” (135).
Most Catholics do not usually speak in terms of the parish satisfying the needs of member, and this fact has not escaped Boone. “There is still a degree of discomfort with some who view this practice,” he writes, “as a move from a mission-centered approval to a need-centered approval” (135). Christ told his followers to go forth and baptize, not to remain contentedly sedentary.
At the same time, however, Boone is using frank language to make a point. Alluding to parish leaders, he says, “Perhaps they don’t realize that their ‘good old’ service/product no longer satisfies the changing needs of those they seek to serve” (138).
Boone is not a theologian, and so does not draw out an important corollary. He does not say (but should have said) that the gospel must be proclaimed so as to be truly “good news” to those who hear it. If the Catholic parish treats its proclamation of the Word in such a way that it appears to be merely a “good old” product, then it ceases to be news at all, good or otherwise.
For many Catholics, Boone suggests, the “price to be paid” for regular Sunday Mass attendance has become too expensive when measured against service quality. The assessment of parishioner satisfaction that he recommends is sure to make some readers squirm, but serves a therapeutic purpose.
9. Evaluating Parish Performance
Chapter nine, “Evaluating Parish Performance,” is the last of Boone’s five chapters in the Concise Guide. The chapter is dominated by a super bowl analogy. A good football manager knows, says Boone, that a team must change its strategy if its score greatly lags behind the score of its competition at half-time. The same is true for the pastor, says Boone. The pastor must ask himself, “Is your parish team winning”? (146).
In order to answer the question, the parish has to discover ways to evaluate its performance. Boone helps the parish by adapting and applying concepts taken from George L. Morrissey’s book, A Guide to Tactical Planning: Producing Your Short-Term Results (1996).
In particular, Morrissey’s concepts of “key result areas” and “Key performance areas” prove useful. The key result areas (KRAs) are the aspects of parish in which the parish must be “winning.” For example, revenue and parishioner involvement must be growing.
The key performance indicators (KPIs) are the “winning scores,” says Boone. The pastoral team can score the parish by counting the Sunday collections and Mass attendance. If the KPIs fall, the KRAs will soon indicate failure.
Boone’s point is that the pastor, like a super bowl coach, cannot change the parish’s strategy effectively unless he has a measure of success or failure. By tracking the parish’s performance, the pastor can identify problems while they still can be solved.
Catholic leaders may dislike Boone’s superbowl image as much as they dislike his dictum that pastors should do less by delegating and should work faster and more efficiently. They may find his references to parishioners as customers irritating, and resent his advice about segmenting the parish market. But Boone’s chapters are refreshingly provocative. They remind leaders that, if it weren’t for the influx of immigrant Catholics, their congregations would be dwindling.
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