The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA has released the first national study on evangelization and outreach in Orthodox parishes in the United States.
The report “Go and Make Disciples: Evangelization and Outreach in US Orthodox Parishes” explores the practices and strategies developed by some Orthodox parishes that can be viewed as exemplary in their missionary and outreach efforts.
Examples of what the readers will find in the report include:
The secrets of being a parish that attracts and welcomes new members;
Eight good practices of welcoming first-time visitors and inquirers about the Faith;
How do exemplary parishes achieve a high degree of involvement of their members in parish life;
Four distinct features of religious education in exemplary parishes;
Six lessons that Church leadership can learn from the exemplary parishes.
Parishes of seven Orthodox jurisdictions participated in this study. The report was prepared by Alexei Krindatch, the Assembly’s Research coordinator in cooperation with Fr. Eric Tosi (OCA), Fr. John Parker (OCA) and Adam Roberts (Antiochian Archdiocese). The study was initiated and sponsored by the Committee for Agencies and Endorsed Organizations (Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, chairman).
Below is the introductory text of the Executive Summary of the Study
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 2015-16 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 Go and Make Disciples: Evangelization and Outreach in US Orthodox Parishes is 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 exemplary in their evangelization and outreach efforts. The study summarizes the experiences of these exemplary parishes, so that they can be adopted by other normal parish communities. The selection of both exemplary and normal 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 exemplary parishes achieve a high degree of involvement of their members in the life of a parish;
- Four distinct features of religious education in the exemplary parishes;
- Secrets of being a parish that attracts and welcomes new members;
- Eight good practices of welcoming firsttime visitors and inquirers about the Faith;
- Six lessons that Church leadership (bishops) can learn from the exemplary parishes.
The study found that few clergy in both exemplary and normal parishes place Assembly Produces Report on Evangelization and Outreach in Parishes a strong emphasis on an active search for and bringing in new members. Instead, a majority of clergy define evangelism in the Orthodox Church as passive (i.e. Come and see) evangelism.
In short, most Orthodox clergy both in normal and exemplary 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 evangelism 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 exemplary and normal 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 exemplary parishes provide a much better example of such life than the normal 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 exemplary parishes offer more inclusive, engaging and meaningful experience of the Orthodox worship than the normal parishes.
Go and Make Disciples: Evangelization and Outreach in US Orthodox Parishes describes in detail the distinct features of the exemplary parishes that make them stronger magnets 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 priests approaches towards Orthodox evangelization and outreach are very important since they help shape their parish communities, the voices of the laity both parish leaders and ordinary people in the pews 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 once in a while.
Go and Make Disciples: Evangelization and Outreach in US Orthodox Parishes has 17 chapters as outlined in the table of contents at the end of the executive summary. Of a particular interest for the Church leadership could be the chapter on “Six ‘Lessons that Church Leadership Could Learn.”
To view additional reports, visit the Research and Statistics section of the Assembly website. To learn more about the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA, visit www.assemblyofbishops.org.
Download the report in various formats at the assembly website: www.assemblyofbishops.org.
Contact: Alexei Krindatch ([email protected])