Based on the resolutions that were put forth at the recent 12th All-American Council, is it true that over the last twenty years there has been a precipitous decline in membership of the OCA?
I quote from one of the five Church-Wide Initiative-Proposals—one that was not selected:
” To arrest the precipitous decline in the reported membership in the Orthodox Church in America over the past 20 years. To identify the causes of decline and address them forthrightly to be faithful to our Lord’s command to go and make disciples.”
How sharp has the decline been? is it continuing? and what is the main reason for the decline?
Every couple of months it is announced that in the St. Louis metro area—where I live—over a thousand adults are brought into the Roman Church.
The report from the AAC says that there has been a decline in the “reported membership” in the Orthodox Church in America. What is meant by this is that parishes are reporting declines when determining the number of people for which they pay assessments. There is a slight difference between “reported membership” and “membership.”
One of the difficulties has been that parishes very often determine their own criteria for determining membership—often in ways that conflict with the method of defining a “member” as given by the OCA. For example, I know of one parish that does not report anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 because, in that parish, one becomes a member of the parish at the age of 21. Therefore, no assessments are paid for individuals in those age categories. There are some parishes that do not report members over retirement age on the notion that since the parish exempts retirees from paying “parish dues,” it also exempts itself from paying assessments for those individuals.
Furthermore, there are certain dioceses that do not submit membership statistics for assessment purposes, which complicates further getting an exact handle on the total number of faithful.
While the “reported” membership has declined, and one can trace this number, it is impossible to trace the numbers of faithful who attend services regularly and who are considered members of their parishes, yet who may not be reported to the Central Church Administration. Much of the discussion at the AAC was focused on these situations; hence, the revisions to the OCA Statute with regard to the definition of a parishioner.
I personally think that there have indeed been declines in the number of members being reported to the OCA, which does not necessarily mean that we are serving less people than 20 years ago. Perhaps we are just reporting less. I know of one parish that, just 15 years ago was reporting a membership of nearly 600; today they report a mere 157. I know for a fact that they did not have 443 funerals in the past 15 years, nor 443 defections to other parishes, other religions, or no religion at all. The priest at that parish is always bragging to me about the number of new members he is getting, yet his reported membership every year keeps going down. This is not an isolated case.
It is very interesting to note that many parishes are experiencing “baby booms,” which would seem to indicate an increase. My own parish has grown from about 25 children and adults in 1989, when it was founded, to nearly 500 children and adults today—including the faithful of our parish who worship at a mission which we started for them two hours away! There are many parishes which are growing quite remarkably, including those in Las Vegas, Dayton, Columbus, Jacksonville, and elsewhere. And these are parishes which, like mine, did not exist 10 years ago, much less 20. And there are dozens of new parishes that have been established in the past 20 years.
Please be assured that the Central Church Administration is working quite diligently to get a handle on all of this in order to obtain a true and clear picture of the total number of people we serve, not just the total number of people for whom the parishes are submitting assessment payments. This is clear in the statement which you quote, which notes that there is a need to identify the causes for the decline in the “reported” membership, as opposed to the “baptized” membership.
As far as the Roman Catholics are concerned, one is bound to find remarkable statistics for them since there are so many of them. The Chicago Archdiocese alone—which only includes two counties in the metro area and does not include the booming DuPage County, which is in the Joliet, IL diocese—numbers some 2 million members. This is the guesstimated number of Orthodox throughout all of North America! With regard to the St. Louis area, which also has a large Roman Catholic population, it is not unlikely that over a thousand adults are brought into the Church every few months. When one compares the number of Roman Catholics in the St. Louis area to the population of the four OCA parishes—Granite City, Madison, and both parishes in St. Louis—one could not expect our parishes to bring in anywhere near that number of people. This would be comparing apples and oranges.
Thank you for your interest and concern. It is only my opinion and experience, but in general I think the OCA is doing quite well and, in many areas, is experiencing a genuine renaissance on many, many levels. The mood at the recent All-American Council was quite indicative of this, especially when one considers the totally impromptu and unplanned pledge drive which took place at one plenary session and netted some $300,000-plus for the Church Wide Initiatives. In many ways, I think we are better off than we sometimes want to believe. This is only my opinion based on my own experience.