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
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