Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
Orthodox Church in America
/ Ministries / Parish Development / Renewal & Revitalization / Diet and Exercise for Parishes
Diet and Exercise for Parishes
Members & Money Results from Mission, Ministry and More
During a recent parish visit, we were asked at coffee hour to offer our spur of the moment/ top of mind suggestions for the parish to "help them." Before responding we asked what they saw as their most important challenges. Not surprisingly the reply was M&M - "money and members". ("We can't pay the bills." "Our assets are depleting." "We're shrinking.") After duly noting that 'M&M' are long term challenges with no silver bullet solutions, we nonetheless dipped into our universal list of "GoTo suggestions" to offer four potential starter action items. With each suggestion the parishioners shared why those "just won't work here".
 
Diet and Exercise for Parishes
This reminded us of the decorative pillow we saw in a gift shop with the aphorism "I'd do anything to lose weight-- except diet & exercise." For parishes the 'diet jingle' often changes to: "We'd do anything to get more Money & Members -- except working on the actual work of a good parish."
 
Seven M's 
As with personal health there are no easy fixes for strengthening parishes.  Of themselves our simple and concrete ideas would not "fix" the aforementioned parish's M&M problem. Gaining members and stabilizing money has prerequisites. 

However if your parish, like many, considers "M&M" as serious challenges we suggest you get to work on at least two or three of the following seven "M based" focus areas: (Mission Mentality, Ministry, Modeling, Modifying, Music, Meaningful Membership and Motivation.)

Click here to continue. 
 
1. Mission Mentality    
Focus on our real parish purpose. When did you last discuss this in your parish?
Why are we here? Who do we serve? What needs do future parishioners have from our parish? What needs exist in our neighborhood?  
 
Parishes without external ministry become isolated and insular -- and unattractive to people considering becoming a part of a church.
 
2. Ministry   
Acting as disciples. In too many parishes the word ministry is unknown -- and there pervades an isolation --insularity -- from the world that serves as a barrier to new members and turns off generosity of many - usually younger - members. Oddly young people actually expect churches to... act like churches! 
 
3. Modeling
Good Christian behavior by parish leaders-- and all parishioners.  Do leaders act as stewards -- taking responsibility for Christ's church --or as owner/overlords wanting to get their way? Is there mutual respect between clergy and laity? 
 
4. Modifying   
Jettison practices and attitudes that no longer (or never did) work. Try something new. If it doesn't work try something else. But try something. 
 
5. Music
Improving worship singing & participation to at least minimal standards. Not every parish has good singers or music leaders. But every parish can participate with energy and warmth.  
 
If your church is relatively empty wouldn't a choir of five downstairs provide a feeling of relatively greater 'fullness' for everyone? Wouldmore worshippers sing?
At a (different) small parish the singing was poor but everyone gave their best with gusto -- loudest from the eldest. It was uplifting and welcoming -and clear they had seen the true light.  Guests don't return to tepid, lukewarm parishes!

Also when you have few people its time to move your small choir out of the choir loft -- the church will look much fuller! (See Eight Good Reasons to Sing Downstairs.) 
 
6. Meaningful Membership  
Is it time for a gloves off conversation about duties & responsibilities associated with being part of the Body of Christ. Establishing greater meaning for 'what we are doing here' establishes the positive basis for Christian generosity.  If the parish, and its work is meaningful to members they give meaningful amounts.  Much better than "Help... we need money!"

Parishes, like people, need motivation to get from here to there.
7. Motivation
The above list begins to identify areas of focus and conversation. However for parishes to "grow" -- qualitatively or quantitatively -- leaders need to build motivation for change. In the book "Choosing Change: How to Motivate Churches to Face the Future" the author explains two types of motivators for Push Motivation (fear of failure and loss; sense of urgency concerning an "unpreferred present"; ) and Pull Motivation (excitement for something better; desire, anticipation, hope vision for a preferred parish future)  See excerpts from a past workshop on motivating change in churches.   
 
Joseph Kormos, Parish Development Ministry