By Fr. William DuBovik
Spreading The Word
What do we do now? It’s a question many may ask when assessing their parish and its direction as they seek to witness for Christ in their parish and in their local community.
Desiring to respond to the call of Christ, to Baptize all nations, and with a love for all of our sisters and brothers in Christ to bring them to the fullness of God’s call, we have begun to implement parts of a program that helps us visibly witness for Christ, sharing His message with others. We share these ideas, not as new, earth-shattering revelations, but as an outline that might be of use in helping to further enliven our parishes.
Outreach, with the goal of bringing more people into the true faith as expressed in the historic church of Orthodox Christianity, is accomplished in many ways. We do this, or seek to do this, so that others may be transformed and may come to know God in the fullest way possible-the only true and fruitful motivation for such efforts. Of course, each one of us must grow ourselves as Christians so that we can reflect Christ in our lives to others. This is a true missionary effort. Still, it is good to make efforts to give our Church greater visibility and to let people know what the Orthodox faith can offer.
Studies show that of those who join a Church, from 70 to 90 percent come because of family or a friend. We need to keep this in mind in any efforts we make to share our faith with others. Even with this statistic, we are left with some 20 percent who come for other reasons-moving into an area, attracted by programs, seeking a new faith, searching for the truth, church school, etc., and we need to find ways to appeal to them.
Outreach For The Right Reasons
Ideas and the voluntary efforts to carry out Outreach programs are welcome as long as they are consistent with our Faith. Traditionally, through parish bazaars, special programs and activities that are publicized, people in the community learn of our presence. We need to do more, however, and a parish needs to decide, prayerfully with the Father’s guidance, the Son’s love and the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, in what direction we want to go. Let us be careful as we embark that our goal is to share Christ’s truths and not just to share our budgetary expenses with others, seeking persons to fill seats and to pay their fair share or dues. Why would God guide us in growth if our motivations are not out of love, but are selfish?
The following are proposals for Outreach, some of which our parish has attempted, others to which we are aspiring:
Outreach-Car-Pooling: There are people who cannot come to church because they do not drive, or no longer drive. Forms can be distributed to find those who need and would like a ride, and to identify others who would be willing to drive someone from their area to church. We have begun to do this on a limited basis and are now considering having one of our parish groups spearhead this effort.
Outreach-Advertising: A society that a couple of years ago got excited over a stuffed red animal that produces an electronic laugh when you press on its stomach-otherwise known as “Tickle Me Elmo”-is a society that attests to the effectiveness of advertising. Our parish has allocated funds and earmarked contributions to increase advertising in the local newspapers-not just that we are here, but with messages of who we are and what we believe. We have seen some fruits from this effort, at least as far as having persons visit us for services, even if they have not yet joined the parish.
Outreach-Accessibility: Too often we have shut out people and called them “shut-ins” because stairs make it impossible for them to come into the church. The parish has started to raise funds for a project to make our church accessible. In our initial planning, we perhaps were hampered by thinking to big, with an equally big price tag. Now we are looking at smaller modifications, such as ramps and lifts, and trust we will soon put this project into motion.
Outreach-Community Relations: How can we relate to the neighborhoods in which we find ourselves? Will we become just commuter churches? Some say the latter is impossible to sustain over a long period, and that a church needs to reach out to its neighborhoods. Don’t we have an obligation as Christians to do just that-taking Christ’s message to all people?
Outreach-Liturgical Life: Our liturgical life is the reason for our being, and if we enthusiastically come to as many services as possible, we are in a position to invite others and encourage others to come. Lukewarm adherents will not attract others. Only those with a passion to worship will. Imagine creating a traffic jam, not for a tag sale or bazaar but for Liturgy! For major feast days and special church observances, we should make a statement by taking the day off from work and by keeping our children home from school to attend the Liturgy. We have started that tradition at our parish with our Bright Monday service and brunch, and are extending it to the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration, with services and a brunch. Overall, liturgical life must be renewed, and this does not involve a committee or a meeting, but each person making a commitment to Christ. This is of utmost importance for our lives as well as our witnessing for the Lord. Will some lead the way and encourage others to follow their example?
Outreach-Flyers: Distributing flyers about the church is another possibility. Parishioners can go door-to-door, post them on store bulletin boards, give them out on corners and at stores.
Outreach-Libraries: Are there books on Orthodoxy at all libraries in the region? Let’s check and see what libraries will accept in donations of books on Orthodoxy as well as Orthodox newspapers and periodicals. Can we sponsor the appearance of an author who has written about Orthodoxy at a library or bookstore?
Outreach-Capital to Capital, Church to Church: Can we link our city with a city in another country that has a strong Orthodox presence? Can we also establish a link between our church and another Orthodox church in a foreign country, thus helping us to broaden our vision and the vision others have of us?
Outreach-Telephone: Many people enjoy talking on the telephone. How about calling someone who has not been seen in church lately, or someone who comes sporadically whom we may feel is in danger of falling away? How about calling a non-Orthodox friend or acquaintance, inviting them to come and see?
Outreach-Welcoming: Our parish does have greeters who do a good job of welcoming guests. They provide mini-forms for the guests to fill out so they can then receive follow-up contact. Greeters wear nametags and move out to welcome guests. They do not wait for guests to approach them. One consideration is to have a “Nametag Sunday” periodically, on which each person wears a nametag. There are people at church, new and not so new, who may not know everyone’s name, or who perhaps have forgotten it.
Outreach-Air Conditioning: Attendance decreases in the summer, in part because of vacations or change in lifestyle, but also because of sometimes suffocating temperatures. Many churches have discovered the benefits of air conditioning. It is not always as expensive as some think. We continue to try to get this project going at our parish.
Outreach-Parking: We have been blessed with a parking lot that can accommodate a large number of vehicles so we do not need additional land for parking. However, in addition to spaces close to the church door for the handicapped, could we also designate two or three spaces there for guests as well, another sign of how we welcome those new to our church?
Outreach-FORCC: We have begun participation in the Fellowship of Orthodox Churches of Connecticut, an inter-Orthodox group comprised of Orthodox parishes throughout the state. Its activities include combined services, publicity, billboards, scholarships, informational mailings to colleges and universities, and exploration of projects that might be jointly undertaken. It is a positive effort with much potential that could be duplicated in other states. (See Resource Handbook article, “Project Billboard” by George Hallas, Vol. II, Sect. Witness and Mission. Ed.)
Outreach-Special Activities: Our parish’s “Russian Tea Room” and Bazaar, while a fund-raiser, is a wonderful opportunity to meet new people. We hold church tours throughout the course of the event. The free door prize raffle that we offer, enables us to collect names and addresses submitted on the stubs, and doing the same with checks used to pay for items, we have been able to develop a mailing list of new people to contact.
Outreach-Bumper stickers: We are considering having bumper stickers printed, or may simply avail ourselves of selling those already printed and well as such things as license plate frames to advertise Orthodoxy.
Outreach-Education: We are beginning a library, and have offered opportunities for adult education. Most importantly, we learn through our worship as we listen to the hymns and prayers, especially from the verses for the appointed feast days. Our icons also tell us about the meaning of what we commemorate. In our worship, God speaks to us in many ways and feeds us—body and soul.
Outreach-Bookstore: In the movie, ” Field of Dreams,” the main character hears the message: “Build it and they will come.” He does and they do. We have found this to be true with our growing store of books and religious goods. It serves our community, as well as visitors to our parish.
Outreach-Computer Age: We need good access to the internet. We need to study how we can best utilize our own website to reach out in this advanced age of technology. With thanks to our Orthodox Church in America, we have information listed about All Saints Parish through the OCA Website, but we need to make a commitment to do more. Also, all parishes can publicize the OCA website, http://www.oca.org, by including its address in their own advertisements, mailings, letters, flyers, thus creating a national advertisement for our Church.
Outreach-Workshops, Organizations: The entire Orthodox Church is seeking ways to reach out. Workshops and programs are offered nationally and regionally to which we need to consider sending representatives. Perhaps on a regional basis we can develop a Festival of Orthodoxy as has been done in some parts of the country.
Outreach-Street Signs: Every parish can put up or request signs giving their parish’s name and address on streets in their towns and cities. Most municipalities will cooperate in erecting the signs.
Outreach-Other Publicity: Our parish sends a schedule of our services each year to the colleges, universities and hotels in the area, welcoming all. If one sees a calendar without Orthodox holy days, one can write to the company. School systems can be notified about holy days, but at least a year in advance. Significant church information can be sent to television and radio stations as well as newspapers. Making a “pest” of oneself can be fruitful. We also can correct erroneous statements. We can write letters to the editor. And we can let our OCA Chancery know about glaring problems in the media so that they can address them as well. Speak up.
Outreach-Ministries: Perhaps there is a special ministry in which a parish would like to be involved, such as a ministry to recovering alcoholics, to widows and widowers, to the abused. This is an excellent form of Christian compassion that can result in outreach. Our parish has begun to develop a relationship with an organization that assists pregnant women and newborns.
Outreach-Conversion Workshops: We hold a special place in our hearts for those who as adults chose the Orthodox faith. The road is often difficult and yet conversion is the cornerstone of Outreach. There would never have been a Christian Church, nor an Orthodox Church without persons converting, accepting Orthodoxy as the true faith. We can learn through their personal stories and discussions what brought these individuals to the parish, so that we can develop ways to attract others.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, these are a few ideas that come to mind when we think of Outreach. You may want to add more, or eliminate some. What is important is that we do not just talk about ideas but that we act to bring them to fruition. How bold and determined will we be? What small mustard seeds of ideas are awaiting our nurturing so they will sprout and grow into huge trees?
We need with openness and most importantly with faith in the power of God to look at our parish-where it is and where it is going. Whether any or all of these projects results in even one new member will be according to God’s will. Just as importantly, with the Grace of God, trying some of these ideas can reinvigorate us, and be a response to any lurking stagnation or backsliding that threatens. We know, too, that an individual or family that turns inward, focusing only on itself, is one in danger. So, too, is a parish. Projects such as these will turn us outward. And, finally, we do need to try to respond to our Lord’s command to “Go and Teach All Nations, Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”