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PARISH RENEWAL, OUTREACH & EVANGELISM: Some practical steps

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Father James W. Kordaris

Management expert, Peter Drucker, was told the story of a museum that once polled its visitors to determine why they had come to the museum. The greatest percentage of visitors replied that they came into the museum because it was raining outside. The second most frequent response was that they came in to use the rest room. To this story, Drucker responded with the question, “How many of these visitors came back?” God brings people through the doors of our churches for many reasons. How many of these visitors will come back?

When Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” He gave us the great commission which today calls us to transform the parish into an agency of Christian mission. This will require a renewed effort to reach out and welcome all parishioners, inactive Orthodox, visitors, inquirers and all who walk through the doors of our churches. Described in this article are practical first steps toward parish renewal, outreach & evangelism that may be implemented in every parish.

Visitors
With our doors open to visitors, it is suggested that they be welcomed publicly by the priest at the conclusion of the liturgy and invited to the coffee hour, setting the tone for the congregation's response and personal welcome. Names, addresses and telephone numbers must be obtained using either a guest book or a guest card that may be completed before entering the church. Ushers/greeters must be shown the importance of reaching out to visitors, with a warm greeting and a Sunday bulletin.

The church hall should be set up with a visitors' table at which would be stationed parishioners interested in this outreach mission of the Church. Available at the table would be information on the parish, its programs, membership directory, bulletin, upcoming events and brochures on Orthodoxy. All items that the visitor receives should be well marked with the name, address, telephone, e-mail and website of the parish, and the name of the priest. If visitors would like, they may be added to the parish mailing list for bulletins and special events.

Public Awareness
Dignified and respectful ads could appear regularly in the Saturday religion section of the local newspapers as a resource to visitors and to those who have recently moved to the area. The same ad could also appear in the area Yellow Pages telephone directory. Area hotels should be made aware of the parish location & worship schedule. There is nothing more frustrating than desiring to attend liturgy and not being able to find the local Orthodox parish.

Local Ecumenical Activities
Be aware of opportunities for Christians of different traditions to cooperate at the grass roots level, especially food banks, soup kitchens, and social service agencies. Stay open to the possibilities for the sharing of resources toward a common goal with Christians of other traditions. Be aware of those special occasions when Christians come together for public prayer, such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January), Thanksgiving, Advent, Lent, September 11, or a special day of prayer called for by a national leader.

Parish Bookstore / Book Table
There is a hunger for knowledge among people of growing faith. There has also been an increase in the amount of Orthodox writing available in English due to many excellent translations of classic works. This is complemented by the great number of writings in English by current Orthodox theologians. Awareness may be raised through book reviews in the church bulletin, recommendations from the pulpit – especially of books appropriate to the current cycle of worship, and parish book discussion groups.

The Parish Council and Missionary Vision
Place missions on the agenda of annual planning meetings with the suggestion that the parish begin its commitment to mission with a line item in the budget for the Missions (domestic & abroad). Establish a parish committee for Parish Renewal, Outreach & Evangelism.

Publications
Great care must be given to parish mailings (bulletins, stewardship packets, special letters, notices, etc.). For those who rarely come to church, this will be their impression of the parish, clergy and staff.

Priests and qualified parishioners might offer to periodically submit articles, commentaries and/or book reviews to the local newspaper on religious topics of general interest. The parish could invite reporters to cover the traditions and services of Lent, Holy Week and Pascha, offering background information on Orthodox beliefs, customs and traditions of the season.

Computer Publications & Communication
Equip the parish with a computer, and set up a parish website. The site could include all information that is distributed in bulletins, schedules, pamphlets, as well as photos, letters from the pastor and/or parish council president. Assistance in this area is available from the Archdiocesan Department of Information Technologies.

Conclusion
There is nothing that is done in the parish that is not apostolic. Parish renewal, outreach and evangelism is not a person, a committee, a mission center or a project. It is an attitude . Everything we do is an opportunity for renewal. Every person, every project, and every list of names offers potential for outreach. There is no limit to the time we may spend on evangelism. Parish renewal, outreach and evangelism is a person-to-person process.

Fr. Jim Kordaris is the Director of the Archdiocesan Department of Parish Renewal, Outreach & Evangelism. A revised & expanded version of this article will soon be distributed to parishes as a booklet by the same title. Inquiries and comments may be sent by e-mail to ParishRenewal@goarch.org. Website: www.renewal.goarch.org.

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