August 24, 2017 Length: 11:10
There is a trite answer to the question: How do Orthodox Christians evangelize? Keep the doors open, the lights on, the floors swept, and the priest paid. Fundamentally, this is correct; paying the bills is essential to the life and health of a community, and “come and see” will always be our most effective clarion call. Yet, while existence is paramount, it is not evangelism. In this episode, Fr. Joseph offers some ideas that have proven effective for revitalizing, invigorating, and sustaining a healthy parish—consider it “in-house evangelism.”
There’s a trite answer to the question: How do Orthodox Christians evangelize? Keep the doors open, the lights on, the floors swept, and the priest paid. Fundamentally, this is correct; paying the bills is essential to the life and health of a community, and “come and see” will always be our most effective clarion call. Yet, while existence is paramount, it’s not evangelism. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but some ideas that have proven effective for revitalizing, invigorating, and sustaining a healthy parish. Consider it “in-house evangelism.” Some items pertain mainly to the priest, but all are worthy of community consideration. It assumes a parish is already offering regular worship services, church school, and a Sunday service bulletin.
Open to All
Our parishes must be open to all people, period! While only Orthodox Christians who are prepared and blessed by their spiritual father may receive holy Communion, anyone and everyone should be welcomed into our fellowship as we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Our faith is all about food—Eucharistic, spiritual, social. Our Lord not only offered his body and blood, he regularly fed the faithful just plain food. The Church, the body of Christ, must do the same. No matter how big or small your parish, people gotta eat. Chances are, folks are more likely to come to meetings, activities, worship, if there’s food.
Our parishes should have information on the Church’s beliefs, teachings, and practices readily available for visitors. These topical tracts may be produced in-house or ordered through Ancient Faith Ministries.
Many discover Orthodox Christianity online. It is an understatement to say that this can be fraught with all sorts of misinformation, dissension, and arguments. Thus it behooves us to offer books for purchase: patristics, Lives of the saints, Orthodox Study Bibles, prayer books, and sound contemporary works on Orthodox ethos and spirituality. Publishers offer bookstore discounts which allows for resale at market prices. In other words, this ministry pays for itself. Besides, the saying is true: “A bought book is a read book.”
Calling something a pledge form seems one-sided. Having an annual membership drive, where all are encouraged to join or renew membership via a membership form—which includes pledge amounts—is more appealing. Even if some households only fill in the contact info, people are more likely to donate towards the needs of a parish if they are members.
Periodically, if not every Sunday during announcements, the priest should invite visitors and newcomers to join the parish. Our worship can often seem intimidating and strange to visitors, and of course for most there will be a lengthy period of catechesis and study, but an invitation to join might just be the welcoming words needed for visitors to take that first step toward the ark of salvation.
Akathist to the Inexhaustible Cup
These days, many of us suffer from various addictions—internet, gadgets, smart phones, whether alcohol, substance abuse, gaming, naughty pictures, or social media. Offering a service such as the Akathist to the Inexhaustible Cup allows those who are struggling to come and pray for self and/or loved ones. Offer refreshments and discussion afterwards for those who wish to stay. This service is freely available online and for purchase in booklet form through various publishers.
“Beauty will save the world.” This oft-quoted maxim of Dostoyevsky’s, derived from The Idiot, is widely misunderstood and misused in our times. As the author demonstrates throughout the novel, beauty alone cannot save the world. However, one of his primary insights, well-illustrated throughout the story is that beauty and suffering can seize the human heart of the observer for reasons other than carnality or even romanticized, idealized attraction. Though these may be present at the early stages of a relationship, as the lover grows in love of the beloved, he must continually seek the ultimate good of the beloved. If his love is to avoid degenerating into selfishness, it must become more and more Christ-like.
I stole those words from Michael D. O’Brien, a blog titled Dappled [Things].
Here is where “come and see” compels us to work sacrificially to offer our best for the glory of the Lord. Our parish temples are the Lord’s house. We must continually beautify our church grounds, temple adornments, iconography, choir and chanting. The priest and deacon must also strive to offer the litanies and dialogues of the services in musical synch with the choir and the chanters.
Every Tuesday, send via a bcc—you know, a blind copy, hidden addresses—an email full of announcements, recent pictures, helpful weblinks, service times, and parish prayer list. This e-blast also serves as the basis for the upcoming Sunday’s bulletin.
Categorize the prayer needs of the parish faithful and friends, and print in the weekly bulletin and e-blast. For example, “with child” names, homecare/facility, health and well-being, comfort, active military, supported missions or ministries, traveling, departed. It’s human nature to appreciate seeing the names of one’s family, friends, and loved ones. It’s God-pleasing to offer up these same names and needs in prayer. This list should be edited weekly to best serve the sincere needs of those for whom we pray and may be offered up in the litanies of fervent supplication and the divine services.
One way to ensure orderliness in our parish communities is to develop teams for altar servers, ushers, napkin-holders, greeters, coffee hour hosts. Spreading out the duties and fellowship encourages greater participation among the faithful and helps to lighten the burdens of the 20[%] that usually do the 80[%].
Ever been to a parish council meeting that went way on past your patience? One solution is to have a meal, with council members taking turns bringing food in rotation. When you eat while you meet, it makes for a pleasurable experience, and when the meal is over it just seems natural for the meeting to soon follow suit. Besides, the work of the council happens between meetings. Council meetings should be about what’s been done, what’s upcoming, and voting on expenditures. There’s at least 29 days for all the other stuff.
Regularly, perhaps the first Sunday of each month, have all the children come forward, sit on a stool closer to the level, talk to them about the feast, the Gospel reading, liturgical season, whatever. Encourage interaction and limit the homily to five to seven minutes. If you make the message child-friendly, experience has shown that this is an excellent way to reach the adults.
Invite guest speakers in once or twice a year to lift the minds and hearts of the faithful. If you advertise and include a registration fee, the event, including catered lunch, should, at the very least, pay for itself. If your parish has organizations such as women’s group, men’s group, or young adults, have one of them sponsor the event, helping to raise the initial capital through a fundraising meal, activity, or collection.
There was once a priest, Fr. Vassily, who was very intimidating. He seemed severe, austere, grumpy. But at the end of vespers and liturgy, the little children flocked to him. He blessed them all, they kissed his hand, and all walked away smiling. His secret? When he placed his hand in theirs, he gave them a piece of candy. Chances are, when those kids grow into more adult struggles, they will remember the kind priest of their youth and bring their struggles to the Church. I keep Twizzlers in my office desk, and some Sundays after liturgy there’s a line of little people all the way out the door.
Choose a weeknight—Wednesdays work well in most places—and offer vespers, refreshments, classes, and activities for all ages, September to May. This is an appropriate time to offer adult Christian education and catechism. Since it’s also a school night, have a hard-stop ending, say, 8:00 p.m.
Namedays, Birthdays, and Anniversaries
On the first Sunday of each month, invite those celebrating namedays, birthdays, and anniversaries during that month to come forward at the end of the liturgy and all sing “Many years” to them, with the priest offering each the cross to venerate as he congratulates them on the occasion.
Not all ideas fit all communities. Your mileage may vary. But if nothing else, these ideas should go a long way toward keeping the doors open, the lights on, the floors swept, and the priest paid.
You may have your own ideas to share with the Department of Missions and Evangelism. If so, please send via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.