Reflections on Parish Growth
It can truthfully be said that every parish in our Diocese is unique-indeed, no two are alike. Each parish has its own particular problems...each has its long-range goals and dreams...each has experienced its own successes and failures. But in every parish, there is one overriding concern that appears to be constant and universal: it is expressed EVERYWHERE-WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Clergy and laity alike will readily admit that attracting new people is the number one issue in their church community. The story is the same everywhere: WE NEED MORE MEMBERS!
The word "outreach" and the term "parish growth" have become important terms in our parochial vocabulary. Many parishes have established committees to address the matter of a dwindling membership, and certainly creative ideas and projects have been put into motion throughout the Diocese to increase our numbers. Now this is certainly a noble goal, but it is also a dangerous goal if we are embracing it for the wrong reasons. So ponder this question: What is our true purpose for bringing new members into our church? Why are we going to all of this trouble? Let's look as some possible answers to that question.
Some may offer the old "the more the merrier" answer! To be sure, there is certainly plenty of room for more worshippers in all of our parishes on a Sunday morning! Wouldn't it be wonderful to see 30 or 40 or 50 more people sitting among us? We could do more things with more people, couldn't we? We wouldn't have to work so hard-we could divide various duties and obligations among a larger "work force" and spread them out a bit, right? New members would mean a stronger financial base as well. We could undertake more projects...we could do so much more if we had a greater weekly income, couldn't we? So are these the reasons why we are trying to attract new members? Clearly, if we are looking at outreach and parish growth strictly as a "number's game" and a "dollar's game," we couldn't be more wrong and we couldn't be further off base!!!
Now these are perfectly fine SECONDARY reasons for wanting to bring others into our church or to the Orthodox Faith. But the PRIMARY reason, not nearly as exciting or intriguing, is vastly more important. The real reason is this: as Orthodox Christians, it is our duty...our obligation...our calling to be modern-day apostles and evangelists and bring others to Christ and His Church FOR NO OTHER REASON than this is where EVERYONE should be! We are not mainly concerned with what others can bring us, but rather what we can give to them.
There is always someone in every parish who wonders aloud what our parish has to offer new members. What can we offer? We offer them the ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH-the most ancient of Faiths. We offer them the Word of God as God Himself in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ taught it, not some human misinterpretation of it. We offer them the Sacraments: cleansing through Baptism...the gifts of the Holy Spirit through Chrismation...forgiveness of their sins through Confession...the Life-giving Body and Blood of Christ through Holy Communion...the healing of body and soul through Holy Unction. Simply put, we offer them the path to salvation. This is why we must reach out to our children...our brothers...our sisters...our friends we grew up with in Sunday School who have "fallen by the wayside"-not because we want them to nostalgically remember their roots and where they came from, but rather because we are sincerely worried about where they are going, or more specifically, where their soul is heading! If you read the Acts of the Apostles or in the letters of St. Paul, you find repeatedly that Christian communities were founded and converts were sought so that everyone would come to the knowledge of the truth about Jesus Christ-there were no other "strings" attached.
We must remember that a church is unlike any other organization to which we may belong. The same principles for "joining" and "belonging" cannot be applied. So when we ask someone to come to our church, remember why we really want them! We are looking for a commitment-not to be new choir members or new Church School teachers or new pirohi workers-but a commitment to follow Jesus Christ.
Protopresbyter Michael Rosco