As a result of the pandemic, parishes had attendance problems. There are people who quit coming to church after COVID and have not returned. Anecdotally, I think it is safe to say that some not insignificant number of them will never do so. At the same time, this story highlights two things.
1. It is undeniable that many jurisdictions fumbled their responses to COVID. Somehow the government declared men who worked as pizza sign spinners to be “essential workers” while our churches moved to spoken liturgies, cordoned off seating, or simply kept the doors locked. Even still, it seems we were flooded with young people following the reopenings that hungered for the faith.
2. There is an indisputable power in the Internet to bring people to our doorsteps. Some years ago it was Schmemann and Gillquist and others in books, then it was Hopko and others in podcasts, and now it is YouTube videos and discord servers. The age of books and podcasts is not over, but every week a new young man comes to church mentioning online personalities that hierarchs are suspicious of. Regardless, these people would not be here without them.
(OCA) – The 2023 Parish Development Forum recently welcomed 90 clergy and laity registrants to explore the Forum theme of “Our Parish and the Future.” Host parish for the Forum was Holy Trinity Church in Parma OH. The Forum was dedicated to the memory and legacy of recently departed Archpriest Daniel Rentel – prime mover behind the original Small Parish Forum. Once again sponsored by the OCA’s Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania, the Diocese of the Midwest and the Bulgarian Diocese, attendees were numbered from six OCA Dioceses, the Antiochian and Greek Archdioceses and the Ukrainian Churches of both US and Canada.
During the Forum the dates for the 2024 Parish Development Forum were announced tentatively as July 11 through 13, 2024.
Archpriest Stephen Frase, clergy co-chair of the Forum, noted “A significant portion of the 2023 Forum agenda was given to encouraging parishes to focus long term on defining the strengths and ‘muscles’ necessary for Orthodox parishes to flourish in the future. These focus areas included: 1) Clergy Laity dynamics as a key to a healthy parish environment; 2) Attracting and Integrating Converts and 3) Connecting Parish Ministry with the Neighborhood. We plan to build on many of these subjects as we plan the 2024 Forum.”
Joseph Kormos, lay co-chair of the Parish Development Forum, said that, “We are now hard at work building summaries, helpful tools and online follow up sessions to assist attendees in applying insights from the Forum in their home parishes. We are looking forward to continuing the work of the Forum at next summer’s session.”
Orthodox Convert Survey Summary Shared
In support of the ‘Attracting and Integrating Converts’ segment, Forum attendees received the summary results of a survey of Orthodox converts conducted by the Forum. The summary included responses from 773 persons who had embraced the Orthodox faith as adults.
A few key findings include:
- Almost half the total survey respondents had converted since the beginning of the pandemic, with 75% of those being men.
- The median age of recent converts is 31.
- Of those converting since 2019 over 45% agreed that the pandemic influenced their decision to seek a new faith in some direct or indirect way.
- Virtually all recent converts were significantly influenced by online podcasts, websites, and other online personalities.
- The “attractive qualities” of Orthodox parishes most often mentioned were: English liturgy; proximity; priest – no pressure/good teacher; welcoming, helpful, encouraging parishioners: “children welcome”; and parish diversity.Survey available here (PDF).