Opening Up Your Parish
By Fr. John Matusiak
20 Ways to Encourage Parish Growth
- Encourage active parishioners through sermons, prayers, and bulletins to witness to their faith by their lives and to talk about the Church with others.
- Send bulk mailings to ail residences in the geographical area of the parish and offer information about parish services and activities. The mailing could also include the parish newsletter, a special edition of the bulletin, or a welcome letter from the priest and parish council.
- Design an informative flyer about the parish. Include a brief history, the various programs and services offered, and the hours of liturgical worship.
- Include prayers for the unchurched, the inactive, and the dis-membered in the petitions of the Litany of Fervent Supplication and the commemoration during the Great Entrance.
- Distribute posters to active parishioners before Christmas and Pascha, inviting the public to join you for worship. Place the posters everywhere!
- Invite the entire neighborhood to participate in your Vacation Church School program. During the children’s classes offer a bible study for parents. Organize a special program after the following Sunday’s Liturgy and invite all participating children and their families to attend.
- Hold a two or three-day Vacation Church School program during Christmas vacation as well. Again, invite the neighborhood and encourage parish children to bring their friends.
- Plan a lecture series on topics of interest to those without Church affiliation, such as: Death and Dying, Bible Basics, Family Life, etc.
- Invite the less active element in the parish, as well as those who have completely dropped out, to an evening question-and-answer session. Offer the opportunity to take “another look” at the Orthodox Church.
- Set aside a week of private prayer for the intentions of inactive Orthodox Christians and the unchurched. Begin and end the week with special prayers at the end of the Liturgy and by offering appropriate sermons.
- Become more aware of the many “evangelizable moments” encountered in daily life, such as funerals, wakes, weddings and baptisms, when many unchurched persons make contact with the Orthodox Church. Active parishioners can make a tremendous impact on an unchurched person’s attitude by extending warmth and concern and offering personal contact.
- Plan a Visitors’ Sunday and encourage active parishioners to invite family and friends, especially those with no Church affiliation. A special program after the Liturgy should be offered, highlighting the life of the parish. Sometimes an Instructional Liturgy is celebrated in conjunction with this program, during which a running commentary is offered for the benefit of non-Orthodox visitors.
- Organize a parish open house with guided tours of the parish buildings, a brief lecture on the Orthodox Faith, free literature on Orthodox Christianity, a short liturgical presentation by the choir, and plenty of free refreshments. While similar to the usual parish fair or festival, the religious rather than the cultural is emphasized. Plan something for every age group.
- Organize a weekly series of daytime programs for neighborhood senior citizens, housewives, etc.
- Ask the local Welcome Wagon to include a pamphlet about your parish in their packets.
- Organize a four-session introductory class on the basics of Orthodoxy. Remember - a short series with a definite end in sight is much more attractive than an ongoing program with an indefinite time frame.
- Encourage active parishioners to invite friends and neighbors with no Church affiliation to parish social gatherings as a means of generating interest in the life of the parish.
- Reserve a table or booth at local shopping malls or public libraries and pass out free literature on the Orthodox Church.
- Always have a number of greeters on hand at every service to welcome visitors, offer them a complimentary service book, answer questions, and introduce them to active members. Have the greeters accompany visitors to coffee hour as well.
- Follow-up on visitors is essential. Send all visitors a personal note as soon after their visit as possibleor better yet, personally call them and express the pleasure of parish members over having them visit with you. Invite them to return. A call placed on Sunday evening has a much greater impact than one made on Thursday.
Fr. John Matusiak is the Church Growth Officer for the OCA and the Director of Publications and Special Projects for the Diocese of the Midwest.