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reviving a parish

Posted By: babochka

reviving a parish - 02/28/09 09:10 PM

Is anybody in a parish that has come back from the brink of extinction? A few years ago, I returned to my childhood parish after many years. What was once a thriving parish is now a sad sight. Typical attendance is from 5-15. The average parishioner is over 60 and drives quite a distance to attend the Divine Liturgy. Once couple faithfully drives almost 2 hours every Sunday. My husband, my four children and I are the only frequently attending family at the moment. There are other families who come occasionally, but they also drive a great distance. We've had another family become regular visitors, and they are discerning which parish to join. We pray that they will stay. Other visitors come and go.

We recently had my daughter Baptized and I invited everyone I could think of. We filled the church with 75 people and I think it was a glorious sight. I had hoped some of my friends might want to come back and visit, but so far none has been interested.

I love the Divine Liturgy and am so glad that I have rediscovered my heritage, but I also want to be a part of a thriving parish that can offer formation and fellowship for my children.

I'm looking for ideas and experiences from anyone who is a part of an active parish, particularly one that was once struggling for survival.

Posted By: Fr. Al

Re: reviving a parish - 03/03/09 06:59 PM

Dear Babochka,I currently serve a Serbian Orthodox parish which sounds pretty much like your parish.It once had 300 or so families,now we have 10 people on a good Sunday ,including myself and the lady who chants for me.The reasons for the decline are many,the area around the church isn't so good,the other 4 Serbian Orthodox churches in the area all have better facilities and all except one are in better areas.I am using some English;when my friend,a Macedonian-American deacon serves with me,his parts are all in English.(BTW, not one Serb ever complained about his use of English,though one would-be missionary left us because I wasn't using enough English.The people have always welcomed the deacon,even though he belongs to a nationality that some Serbs claim doesn't exist.It's also nice that he usually brings his wife,parents, and aunt which ups the attendence a bit).We did pick up a Romanian lady who is Old Calender,she just had my baptise her infant son,though there are at least 6 New Calender Romanian churches in the area.This week,I'm not able to serve the Canon or Presanctified Liturgy this week,owing to the lack of manpower,but next Monday,my spritual father who is Arcimandrite of a local Monastery will come to chant the Presanctified Liturgy and hopefully build ties between the parish and his monastery.He has a small pan-Orthodox group of faithful who attend the monastery for services,and he and I both share brotherly relations with the one other Serbian Orthodox priest of the New Grachanitsa metropolis,who is actual administator for the parish I,m serving.
Posted By: stormshadow

Re: reviving a parish - 03/03/09 08:18 PM

I have seen a "resurgence" in my parish in CT of sorts. It's too early to report numbers yet though--I hope it is not just due to curiosity. In our case, I think it has to do with the installation of a permanent priest--Father Frank. It's nice to see new blood, and it was good of the Bishop to officially say that one of the missions is to build the Church back up again.

A receptive priest often makes all the difference.

We had a thread not too long ago on welcoming new people into the church--VERY IMPORTANT.

Posted By: Kathleen Elsie

Re: reviving a parish - 03/09/09 11:18 PM

Originally Posted by babochka
Is anybody in a parish that has come back from the brink of extinction? A few years ago, I returned to my childhood parish after many years. What was once a thriving parish is now a sad sight. Typical attendance is from 5-15. The average parishioner is over 60 and drives quite a distance to attend the Divine Liturgy. Once couple faithfully drives almost 2 hours every Sunday. My husband, my four children and I are the only frequently attending family at the moment. There are other families who come occasionally, but they also drive a great distance. We've had another family become regular visitors, and they are discerning which parish to join. We pray that they will stay. Other visitors come and go.

We recently had my daughter Baptized and I invited everyone I could think of. We filled the church with 75 people and I think it was a glorious sight. I had hoped some of my friends might want to come back and visit, but so far none has been interested.

I love the Divine Liturgy and am so glad that I have rediscovered my heritage, but I also want to be a part of a thriving parish that can offer formation and fellowship for my children.

I'm looking for ideas and experiences from anyone who is a part of an active parish, particularly one that was once struggling for survival.

Originally Posted by stormshadow
I have seen a "resurgence" in my parish in CT of sorts. It's too early to report numbers yet though--I hope it is not just due to curiosity. In our case, I think it has to do with the installation of a permanent priest--Father Frank. It's nice to see new blood, and it was good of the Bishop to officially say that one of the missions is to build the Church back up again.

A receptive priest often makes all the difference.

We had a thread not too long ago on welcoming new people into the church--VERY IMPORTANT.



The small Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church near us has a priest that has welcomed Catholic home educators with open arms. The altar boys went from one to now some days there are seven of them. His being supportive of our large families and his being willing to educate us in the Byzantine Traditions have been a blessing for us all. Some have joined the parish and some are looking into changing rites formally.

A couple of other Eastern Rite Catholic parishes were not very welcoming to (strangers)visitors. They tended to look at visitors that were not their nationality as interlopers.

Also to be fair many RC tend to not want to be considered ethnic it just isn't popular to celebrate your family heritage.
Posted By: babochka

Re: reviving a parish - 03/13/09 05:24 AM

Fr. Al,

I'm sorry to hear that your parish is struggling, too. I think the neighborhood of my church also affects attendance. We have a thriving Ukrainian Catholic Church nearby, also in a bad neighborhood, but we have current immigration from Ukraine. We also have a Melkite parish that is doing well.

Elizabeth
Posted By: babochka

Re: reviving a parish - 03/13/09 05:31 AM

Yes, I agree that having a receptive priest is critical. For a few years, we had a temporary administrator from a parish more than 2 hours away. He did a great job and worked himself into the ground, but he could only do so much. Our current priest is on medical leave. He does his best, but he is also not a resident of our city. His home is also 2 hours away. We have had a temporary administrator for the last 2 months and he is staying in town. Simply having a resident priest seems to make a difference. The current pastor is retiring very soon and we are expecting to get a priest from Slovakia at the end of the summer. He is known to the parish (and well-liked). His wife is from our area and has deep roots in the community. Perhaps this new priest will help attract and keep visitors. We have had two new families visit several times in the past few months. We hope they choose to join us.

Posted By: babochka

Re: reviving a parish - 03/13/09 05:37 AM

Kathleen,

We are a homeschooling family as well. I think that we could attract homeschoolers, although there is a thriving parish nearby that exclusively offers the Tridentine Mass. I think that most homeschooling families who are looking for something different have found a home there. Still, that is definitely an avenue to pursue.

Our parish really isn't particularly ethnic anymore. It is a Ruthenian parish, but few remain who have any ethnic ties to the Byzantine rite. Most of the parish started with a love for the liturgy and gradually became attracted to a more Eastern theology.

I'm glad to hear that your parish is doing so well. Thanks for sharing with me. It gives me hope.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth
Posted By: Big John of Anch

Re: reviving a parish - 03/16/09 06:09 AM

Is your parish dying? Is anyone there, that can afford a small fee to advertise in an area paper? Your fee, can be a Non-Cash Contribution, as you advertise your church. Make it simple,put in web site, and create something to attract one to notice it. I myself have put an ad for our Byzantine Catholic, every other week, at Christmas, and now in the state(Alaska) Visitor's Guide. This is just one way to revive your parish.
Posted By: harmon3110

Re: reviving a parish - 03/16/09 09:32 AM

Originally Posted by Big John of Anch
Is your parish dying? Is anyone there, that can afford a small fee to advertise in an area paper? Your fee, can be a Non-Cash Contribution, as you advertise your church. Make it simple, put in web site, and create something to attract one to notice it. I myself have put an ad for our Byzantine Catholic, every other week, at Christmas, and now in the state(Alaska) Visitor's Guide. This is just one way to revive your parish.



I like that idea. I think it is smart to have a "stepped" approach to marketing a parish that invites and informs people.
-- Step 1: advertising that points to a website. (Word of mouth advertising is most valuable of all, but ads in the local paper, etc., are good too.)
-- Step 2: a website that informs and that points people to visiting for Liturgy.
-- Step 3: friendly welcoming people at Liturgy.,
-- Step 4: follow-up that is personal but not pushy.

The parish website can be an important step in the marketing process of a parish. It informs and invites, but without the social pressures of talking to someone in person. In that way, people feel much freer to investigate.

Sadly, so many parish websites miss that.

Instead, so many parish websites get caught up in making long theological or historical statements. Or, they have too many photos and special effects on the front page. Or, they don't have enough information. Either way, they fail to *inform* -- quickly and concisely and sufficiently.

Instead, here is what I look for on the front page of a church's website:
-- contact information: the church's name, address, telephone number, email address, and other contact information
-- the church's jurisdiction / denomination (Surprisingly, that can be hard to find on some websites for Orthodox churches that I have visited.)
-- a brief statement of welcome
-- times for Liturgy
-- links to other pages at that website with more information

And then, on the other pages of the parish website, more details can be given:
-- a background page. It should include a short summary of beliefs (the Symbol of Faith, perhaps?), a short parish history, and recommendations or links for more information. Yes, all that can be given concisely on one webpage. For the recommendations, please include both books and online resources. (Catholics, please list something more than the Catholic Catechism and the Bible.)
-- for Eastern Churches: have a page with the essay by Khouria Frederica Matthews-Green's on the 12 things she wished she had known about visiting an Orthodox Church. It really is useful for newcomers.
-- a page for children's services and school activities. This is a BIG positive signal to parents that the parish VALUES and WELCOMES and MINISTERS to families. And that's the future.
-- a page for all other ministries and activities (listing them, with a brief description for each, and appropriate contact information -- either the parish office or direct contact information, being careful with people's privacy)
-- a page that features the annual fundraiser -- halupki dinner, chicken roast, fish fry, etc.
-- a page listing the pastor and staff, with photos and contact information
-- a page with the weekly bulletin (in an easy to print format and with archives)
-- an invitation to receive the weekly bulletin by email (because a lot of people won't bother to visit your parish's website more than once, but the emailed weekly bulletin can keep you in contact with them afterwards)
-- a page with photos of the outside of the church, the inside of the church, and some church activities
-- an easy to read map ! (and a link to an online map service like Google Maps, etc.)

That's just my two cents.

Happy web mastering !

-- John
Posted By: babochka

Re: reviving a parish - 03/16/09 10:46 PM

Thank you for your very detailed recommendations. We have a website, but it is not often updated and certainly could use some revamping. Right now, the website is under the control of someone who would probably not be open to suggestions. In the future, perhaps, some changes can be made.

I especially liked your suggestions regarding the weekly bulletin being online and available by e-mail. This allows a potential visitor to get a feel for the parish first. I know that when I'm going to be on vacation, I often consult a parish website while I'm trying to decide where to attend. If bulletins are available, I always read a few.

At this point, our parish is so small that activities are almost non-existent. Now that another family has joined the parish, maybe we can get something going for the kids. The truth is, our parish does not seem to value, minister to, and welcome families. I believe that's a big part of the problem. There is absolutely nothing for the kids. Everybody is friendly enough, but there is nothing to make visitors want to make this their home (other than the Divine Liturgy).

Anyway, thanks for your suggestions. I'll be talking to others about implementing those that we can do.
Posted By: Irish Melkite

Re: reviving a parish - 03/17/09 09:26 AM

I think both Big John (always good to see a post from our nothernmost Ruthenian brother smile ) and John offer excellent suggestions. Having read several hundred EC parish websites in the past two years (no, not a glutton for punishment - done in the course of compiling ByzCath's EC/OC Parish Directory), I can honestly say that the quality varies from excellent to those that cause me to wonder why they bother using the bandwidth.

On a positive note, on-line weekly (or monthly) bulletins is an idea that seems to be catching on. When I started work on this project, they were very few and far between - and they are still the exception rather than the norm. However, I now see it often enough that it was worthwhile to add a link on the directory entries of those parishes which offer them.

One caveat on this score though - the bulk of the work involved with a website occurs at the beginning, as much material is static and doesn't really need maintenance or updating (not that I would discourage anyone from regularly posting new info). If, however, one elects to put up bulletins (or the readings for each week), those are tasks that must be attended to regularly. There is nothing so suggestive of a "dead" parish than to click the 'weekly bulletin' link and find the most recent one posted to be from 2004 (and, yes, I did that just last night).

As far as creating websites, I see ones that are done very professionally, at some obvious cost or with the donation of some very professional services; others are clearly of the do-it-yourself variety with varying degrees of skill and expertise, but often with love; and the bulk are somewhere in between. There are also still vast numbers of parishes without one. At this point, I'm convinced that every parish should put up, at the very least, a single page with one interior and one exterior photo, location, contact info, and a basic schedule of Divine Services. (Heck, even our directory entries offer that much info! - examples here and here )

Who do you get to do that (or maybe more)? A wonderful resource is likely available among your parish youth. I'd be surprised if among them there isn't some 'geek' or even 'cool kid' who doesn't fancy himself/herself to be a future web designer and would love the opportunity to demonstrate those skills.

A few years ago, I posted here about Archbishop Cyril's enthronement and remarked on a conversation that I had with Vladyka Stefan (Soroka) while driving him to the airport. I remarked on the then-new (long overdue) and very nicely done website for the UGCC Cathedral; he was surprised that I was aware of it and pleased by the compliment. He confided that it had been done by the 17 year old son of one of the priests (a young man who has since posted here occasionally). They are out there - ask; yes, many might need guidance as to content, but that opportunity to teach our young more about their faith, their church, and their heritage is a blessing itself.

A last thought, before I get off my soapbox, there are those who will say 'but, St X's parish has no youth; it is one of those with pews (or a pewless nave) populated only by gray-haired aunties and uncles'.

  • Consider approaching local Catholic high schools or colleges that offer computer classes and whose teachers might see this as a short-term project that students could use as a learning experience.
  • Nearby parishes that are blessed with interested youth might consider 'adopting' St X and getting its website set up for it. (I recently completed a directory entry for a parish with a very nice home-grown website and was saddened a few nights later to discover that its sister parish - with which it shared a priest - had no website whatsoever.)
I've given thought several times to starting an ongoing thread in which I'd highlight some of the websites that I encounter which are particularly informative, resourceful, and/or attractive. After this discussion, I just might do that.

It does strike me as sad when I realize, at times, that our directory entries - which are necessarily limited in scope - may be the only source available for information about a parish.

Many years,

Neil
Posted By: harmon3110

Re: reviving a parish - 03/17/09 09:42 AM

Originally Posted by Irish Melkite


A wonderful resource for creating a parish website] is likely available among your parish youth. I'd be surprised if among them there isn't some 'geek' or even 'cool kid' who doesn't fancy himself/herself to be a future web designer and would love the opportunity to demonstrate those skills.


That is such good advice !


Quote
I've given thought several times to starting an ongoing thread in which I'd highlight some of the websites that I encounter which are particularly informative, resourceful, and/or attractive. After this discussion, I just might do that.


Do it. Please. It's needed, and it would be interesting.

-- John

Posted By: babochka

Re: reviving a parish - 10/13/09 09:00 PM

I just wanted to give you all an update and let you know what has been happening in my parish since I posted this. It is so exciting and there is a sense of hope in the parish now.

We have a new pastor, who started 2 months ago. In that time, attendance has steadily increased. Some former parishioners have returned, but we have new people as well. We have three new families. Each family has 4 young children, so I'm no longer the lone mother disrupting the service by going in and out, back and forth. The revolving door in the back makes me so happy, as one little girl after another has to use the bathroom. We had a visitor last week comment that there were so many young children! Attendance seems to be holding steady around 45. Still small, but quadruple what it was when I wrote the original post.

We still don't have the income to keep it going, but we have hope and we are starting to have a vibrant parish life. Our priest and his family are living with his in-laws, and he is finding it harder to find another job than he had hoped. He has requested bi-ritual faculties from the local Latin Bishop so that he can substitute at local parishes as needed. It would be nice to be able to afford a housing allowance for them someday. He is graciously serving us without that, and knowing that our small parish cannot support his family.

We just have so much hope! I just wanted to share the rest of this story with all of you who gave me suggestions and feedback.

Elizabeth
Posted By: Pani Rose

Re: reviving a parish - 10/14/09 02:54 AM

Glory to God! Elizabeth that is awesome.
Posted By: Alice

Re: reviving a parish - 10/14/09 07:36 PM

Dear Elizabeth,

This is very good to hear. May God bless your parish.

I think this is one of the most pertinent threads here, and I hope that your optimistic post will inspire and encourage others.

Be well,
Alice
Posted By: Fabian Ignatius

Re: reviving a parish - 04/23/10 10:19 PM

babochka and fr. al, I am a Church Development Director who specializes in liturgical attendance and fundraising. Websites and newspapers are good but most people who are not looking for a Byzantine Church will not be reached. I would love to help you out, no money needed, I would just need help understanding more of the dynamics of your community and the area. Let me know what you think. I cant recieve PM yet but until I can feel free to email me: apostolicfaith@cox.net
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