Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
Orthodox Church in America
/ Ministries / Parish Development / Leadership & Parish Council / Empowering New Parish Efforts
Empowering Your Parish By Granting Permission

We’re often asked what we observe in parishes that are working successfully to pull themselves out of ruts and bring new energy to their life in Christ. Here a few of the “mechanisms” that we have seen that help parishes find new life –to pull themselves out of ruts and to try new things.


Many clergy are realizing the amazing power of trust. By giving people permission they often --not always -- respond by undertaking important, valuable efforts that fit their hopes dreams and concerns for their church.  They find the things for which they have gifts and talents. They begin to work on tasks that they feel called to do. And the outcomes are often infectious.  Try to say (or imply) "No" less often. Instead work on "Sure, let's try it".

Core Groups
Small groups can be potent hotbeds of fertile ideas for strengthening parishes. It takes time for such groups to blossom but when they do they often form a core for changing and strengthening an important dimension of parish life. People are learning to talk to one another about Christ and building his church --and many of those conversations are happening in small groups. Find ways to stimulate formation of small groups. Give guidance, assistance and boundaries. But mostly offer encouragement and when necessary be prepared to get out of the way.

Tasks and Projects
Ongoing ministries are important but can often become stale and tired. Find groups that are willing to tackle a "project". Find something that won't continue indefinitely but instead has a clear end point and a "product".  Such products can be an event such as a retreat, a class, a video or a document or a major revision to an existing ministry etc. One parish is exploring a major renovation to its youth activities to find ways to strengthen how the youth program helps generate well formed Orthodox Christians --while also having fun and creating friendships. Once the renovation is complete the team can disband. Or, find a new project!

Structure and Process
Too much structure and process can impede progress, but we find that the preponderance of anecdotal evidence indicates that structured approaches help groups to coalesce on something significant. Sometimes it can be a book that is being discussed. Or the expectations and planning associated with receiving grant funds or exploring the framework of the Parish Health Inventory Model. All of these can help focus the work of core groups on something stimulating.

From Few -- to Many
Sometimes the product of a core group can be a ministry carried out by that group in relative isolation from the remainder of the parish. In other cases however, approaches need to be found for the work of the small group to touch the entire parish. Various tools can be used to propel these efforts into the parish's consciousness. One team used a parish wide survey to gather insight for an education program -- as well as to raise interest in their effort. In other cases presentations and discussions and concrete proposals enabled the parish annual meeting to offer its "Amen!" to the work of the team. Other obvious approaches involve newsletter articles and coffee hour presentations.

Orthodox Christians Love Their Parish
Its true. As we work with parishes we consistently notice that most people seem to love their parish. Yes, sometimes it can be too much, or misplaced. This can lead us to a sense of insularity or even entitlement. It can lead to competitiveness vs. other communities or a lack of connectedness with others. We may love the building more than the people. This focus may set up "the parish" as the object of our love --rather than God.

Nonetheless our church is where we worship and where we --hopefully-- learn to "love one another". A first step on the path to building a love of God can be to harness and channel parishioners' energy to make their church community a good place.

As we work with parishes we notice that as parishes find ways to engage laity on a project that is valuable, important  and interesting to them -- good things start to happen. Energy builds -- and this energy can become infectious for the whole community's life in Christ.