St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church
of Boston, MA

Message from Fr. Timothy

GROWING INTO THE FUTURE”

                Although we at St. George have been blessed with significant steady growth in recent years, it’s always good to step back and take a good hard look at trends for the future.  The “Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America” – a pan-Orthodox body of bishops representing all Orthodox jurisdictions in the country – has recently published results of an ongoing study on parish growth and is well worth studying.  The full report can be read here - http://www.assemblyofbishops.org/assets/files/docs/research/EvangelizationStudyReportFinalRev4.pdf.

                The following is an abridged summary that sheds light on some vital aspects of the report and implications for the local parish.  This past fall, our parish council met twice with Richard Robbat and Dr. Anthony Bashir to explore the possibility of conducting an expanded parish workshop on growth and strategizing for the future.  Plans are currently underway to schedule the necessary series of seminars.  In the meantime, this thought provoking and timely report offers much food for thought.  Hopefully you will take a look at the full report and consider getting involved in our upcoming ‘parish growth’ discussions.  Complete details of our local parish program will be publicized in the bulletin and via email as they become available.

Blessings, Fr. Timothy

ʺGo and Make Disciples: Evangelization and Outreach in US Orthodox Parishesʺ

Executive Summary of the Study

by Alexei Krindatch (akrindatch@aol.com)

in cooperation with: Fr. Eric Tosi, Fr. John Parker and Adam L. Roberts

An urgent need exists in Orthodox parishes in the United States for a much stronger emphasis on evangelization and outreach. The national studies conducted in 2015‐2016 indicated that without paying serious attention to evangelization and missionary outreach, the Orthodox Church in the United States is likely to stagnate, lose its vibrancy and vitality, and decline in members.

The ʺGo and Make Disciples: Evangelization and Outreach in US Orthodox Parishesʺis the first ever national study on evangelization and outreach practices in US Orthodox Christian Churches. It examined the strategies and practices developed by some Orthodox parishes that can be viewed as ʺexemplaryʺ in their evangelization and outreach efforts. The study summarizes the experiences of these ʺexemplaryʺ parishes, so that they can be adopted by other ‐ʺnormalʺ‐ parish communities. The selection of both ʺexemplaryʺ and ʺnormalʺ parishes for the study was done by seven jurisdictions participating in this study. The examples of what is discussed in the study report include:

  • How do ʺexemplaryʺ parishes achieve a high degree of involvement of their members in the life of a parish;
  • Four distinct features of religious education in the ʺexemplaryʺ parishes;
  • The ʺsecretsʺ of being a parish that attracts and welcomes new members;
  • Eight good practices of welcoming first‐time visitors and inquirers about the Faith;
  • Six ʺlessonsʺ that Church leadership (bishops) can learn from the ʺexemplaryʺ parishes.

The study found that few clergy in both ʺexemplaryʺ and ʺnormalʺ parishes place a strong emphasis on an active ʺsearch for and bringing inʺ new members. Instead, a majority of clergy define evangelism in the Orthodox Church as ʺpassiveʺ (i.e. ʺCome and seeʺ) evangelism. In short, most Orthodox clergy ‐ both in ʺnormalʺ and ʺexemplaryʺ parishes ‐ believe that the people will be drawn into the Orthodox Church merely by discovering the power and truth of the Church’s teachings and practices and the beauty of Orthodox Liturgy. This finding suggests that ‐ when it comes to the question of ʺevangelismʺ Orthodox priests rely heavily on their perceived natural attractiveness of the Orthodox Church for many religious seekers.

However, while most priests adhere to similar definitions and general approaches to evangelization, the clergy in ʺexemplaryʺ and ʺnormalʺ parishes differ significantly in how they practice these approaches and embody them in reality. That is, all clergy believe in the power of witnessing the Orthodox Faith through the genuine Christian lives of the individuals and their entire parish communities, but ʺexemplaryʺ parishes provide a much better example of such life than the ʺnormalʺ parishes. Similarly, all clergy believe that the richness of Orthodox liturgical life lived out in a parish can attract new disciples to the Orthodox Church, but the ʺexemplaryʺ parish’s offer more inclusive, engaging and meaningful experience of the Orthodox worship than the ʺnormalʺ parishes.

ʺGo and Make Disciples: Evangelization and Outreach in US Orthodox Parishesʺdescribes in detail the distinct features of the ʺexemplaryʺ parishes that make them ʺstronger magnetsʺ for new members and inquirers about the Orthodox Faith than the “normal” parishes.

This study thus far was based exclusively on experiences, information, and perceptions on the part of the parish clergy. While the priestsʹ approaches towards Orthodox evangelization and outreach are very important since they help ʺshapeʺ their parish communities, the voices of the laity ‐ both parish leaders and ordinary ʺpeople in the pewsʺ‐ must be carefully heard as well. Accordingly, the next stage of study on Orthodox evangelism and outreach in the United States will approach our lay church members: old and young, cradle Orthodox and converts to Orthodoxy, those who are very involved in their parishes and those who participate ʺonce in a while.ʺ

ʺGo and Make Disciples: Evangelization and Outreach in US Orthodox Parishesʺhas seventeen chapters as outlined in the Table of Contents at the end of this executive summary. Of a particular interest for the church leadership could be the chapter on “Six ‘Lessons’ that Church Leadership Could Learn.”

The following table offers an abridged overview of the most salient features of the ʺexemplaryʺ parishes that distinguish them from the ʺnormalʺ parishes. The table also indicates the pages of the full study report where each of these features are discussed in greater detail.

Major Distinct Features of the Parishes that Are ʺExemplaryʺ in their Evangelization and Outreach Efforts in Comparison with ʺNormalʺ Parishes Area of church life

ʺExemplaryʺ parishes

ʺNormalʺ parishes

MEMBERSHIP

Demography of membership

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Other distinct features of membership

 

 

Much stronger presence of converts to Orthodoxy among parishioners;

Significantly higher percentage of persons with college degrees among parishioners;

Significantly higher percentage of persons who are new to the parish in the past 3 years among parishioners;

Significantly smaller percentage of senior citizens (age 65+) among parishioners;

Significantly higher percentage of households with children at home

 

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High ethnic and cultural diversity among parishioners

Steady growth in number of parishioners which is typically accompanied by increasing diversity among members

 

 

Much lower percentage of converts to Orthodoxy;

Significantly lower percentage of persons with college degrees among parishioners;

Significantly lower percentage of persons who are new to the parish in the past 3 years;

Significantly higher percentage of senior citizens (age 65+);

Significantly lower percentage of households with children at home

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More homogenous social and ethnic-cultural composition of parishioners

No significant changes in membership over period of time

 

PRIESTHOOD

Demography of priesthood

 

 

 

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Changes in priest's understanding of his role of a pastor and leader of a parish over period of time

 

 

More converts to Orthodoxy

Clergy have typically much longer "tenure:" i.e. they stay longer time with their churches

 

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The original focus on "running programs and administration" shifted towards being a good teacher, preacher and a "role model" for parishioners

 

 

Fewer converts to Orthodoxy

Clergy have typically much shorter "tenure:" i.e. they stay shorter time with their churches

 

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As the years go by, clergy are becoming increasingly involved in administration, management and fundraising tasks

 

INVOLVEMENT of parishioners in the life of a parish and in evangelization and outreach

 

 

Typically, half or dominant majority of parishioners are actively involved in all aspects of a parish life

Outreach efforts and evangelization are often perceived as the way the entire parish community lives and sees itself

 

 

Relatively small "core" group of parishioners does everything in a parish

"Program approach" to evangelization: outreach efforts are typically carried out by the designated groups of parishioners

 

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

 

Along with religious education for children strong emphasis is given on continuing faith formation of the adult church members.

 

 

Religious education focuses primarily on children and is typically limited to Sunday school

 

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St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church | V. Rev. Fr. Timothy Ferguson, Pastor
55 Emmonsdale Road P.O.Box 320164 | West Roxbury, MA 02132
(o) 617.323.0323 | (f) 617.323.6301 | email us | map