Villanova University center specializes in church management

by Jerry Filteau

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Charles Zech (Barbara Johnston)

PHILADELPHIA -- One of the few places in the country where church administrators can get a graduate degree in church management is at the School of Business at Augustinian-run Villanova University in Philadelphia, the oldest Catholic university in Pennsylvania.

“People say the church is not a business, and they’re absolutely right,” said Charles Zech, director of Villanova’s six-year-old Center for the Study of Church Management. But the church “has a responsibility to use its facilities and resources effectively,” he added, and that’s where the effective business management techniques come into play. “It’s really about responsible stewardship,” he said.

NCR interviewed Zech after a daylong parish technology summit hosted by the center. The Feb. 25 summit drew about 200 diocesan and parish ministry leaders, mainly from the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.

The center, established in 2004, now offers a Master of Science degree in church management, mainly through online courses. Zech said the chief goal is to help people who came up through the ranks of ministry in the church and now find themselves thrust into administrative positions with little or no background in how to manage personnel, handle institutional finances or deal with issues of civil and canon law that come with positions in church administration.

He said the degree program takes a minimum of two years, and this May it will have its first 19 graduates. Funding from the Raskob Foundation and another foundation that prefers not to be named publicly allows the center to charge tuition that is less than half the actual cost of the program, he said.

“About one-quarter of the students in our master’s program are Protestants,” he added. “Every church has the same problems, the same basic temporal issues” of finances, personnel and other management concerns.

The center also runs a one-week intensive program on church management each summer and does extensive research in issues of church management and finance. Zech and the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate recently collaborated on a national study of parish councils and parish finance councils that is to be published this spring.

Zech, a professor of economics at Villanova’s School of Business, said he splits his time about 50-50 between teaching duties in the business school and directing the center. Other faculty fellows of the center are also professors in the business school, he said.

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