We're often asked a version of the question:"How can our parish become more healthy and hopeful." We always refer people to the Orthodox Parish Health Inventory. It is a reasonably comprehensive overview of important areas of focus. But at 60+ pages, using the inventory can involve some real work.
Sometimes it is important provide a crisper answer. As part of our recent webinar series we offered a simple list of observable traits that often standout when we visit parishes. What factors would have made us want to return? We called it 21 Observable Traits of Vibrant Orthodox Parishes.
Solid, singable music delivered by a choir or core of singers encourages everyone to participate.
Based on feedback from our recent webinar series the list was of value in a number of parishes. We've combined a few and shortened the list (now 15) --and reproduced it below.
1. Decent Music
Delivered with care; at a pace that provides energy and encourages and achieves participation from the congregation.
2. Worship Participation More than Sunday
An emphasis on more than Sunday. Exhortations to vespers, akathists and upcoming festal liturgies are heeded by more than a few.
3. Good Preaching
4. Serious Lenten Commitment
Parish and personal lives exhibit a different character during Great Lent and other fasting seasons.
Comprehensive adult education efforts often include lay teachers.
5. Active Adult Education
Various teachers and class delivery methods; presence of a parish library and bookstore.
6. Electronic Communication
Active, regular use of email, blogs, Facebook etc. to communicate with the faithful, reach out to others, share prayer requests and to teach and reinforce messages. Parishioners often receive communications from the priest more than once per week.
7. Decent Priest Compensation
Paying the priest a fair salary and benefits, commensurate with education, experience, years of service and reflective of the economic situations of parishioners, is often a leading indicator of future new life in the parish. Parishes that appreciate their pastor show it in concrete terms.
Goodparishes welcome members & visitors from multiple backgrounds.
8. No Predominant Ethnic Group
Few Orthodox parishes continue to be replenished by immigration from the old country. Growing parishes blend various customs and make it easy for people of all backgrounds to become comfortable. Thus they expand their reach.
9. Not Ethnically Labeled
While proud of their past and their heritage, good parishes
create a welcoming identity by transitioning ethnic labels from signs, events, websites, letterhead, business cards
|Parish webmasters updating parish website with compelling photos.|
10. Charitable Budget Line Item
OK, you may not discern this in a single visit but good parishes set aside a meaningful chunk of their parish budget to charitable work outside the parish including local charities. Inevitably some parishioners complain. Leaders then step forward and express commitment to this principle.
11. Good Website
The web presence can be simple but it needs to be up to date, look attractive and contain photos -- of people.
12. A Smiling Welcoming
A smiling welcome is great but greeters can't do everything. All parishioners need to help with creating a joyful experience.
Being greeted by a smiling parishioner handing out a bulletin is always a positive (IMO) but the real welcome comes during or after liturgy -- when the inquirer is out of the greeter's contact. Regular parishioners have learned smiling and eye contact, moving over, and the importance of an invitation to join us for coffee. Another quick point --according to studies -- people evaluate the friendliness of a church based on how many people come up to talk to them.
13. No Dues
We've said it before -- and repeat it again -- in our opinion, regardless of other factors, a parish that continues to use a 'dues system' ("we're all equal here") has less than 15 years to live. Joyful, confident, trusting, willing and proportional have become the vernacular.
Vibrant parish councils pull the parish forward to a brighter future.
14. Tithing -- is Orthodox
Another oft heard term is tithing. Used without apology it expresses an Orthodox standard of generosity and love. Clearly some parishioners have begun to respond.
15. Parish Council as Leaders
Instead of focusing solely as gatekeeper/critics who look through the rear view mirror and focus only on "B3" (bills budgets, buildings), some vibrant parish councils face forward -- collaborating with the priest in service of the total mission of the parish.