Boot Camp: The Way to Go
By Pearl Homiak
At St. Luke Orthodox Church, we have a vision. We also have a mission statement and many ministry activities. However, concerning church growth, are we where we need to be? To find out, Sue Lisowski, Evangelism Team Leader, and I attended the OCA Church Growth Boot Camp held at St. Vladimir's Seminary in June. Boot Camp lasted three wonderful days, and all of us who attended grew deeper in understanding as we acquired new knowledge. It was exciting and encouraging to be with other Orthodox people from so many different parishes. All of these men and women take church growth seriously and wanted to know what to do to make it happen. Sue and I knew that St. Luke's was on the right path in this regard, but we soon discovered that our parish needed to make some helpful improvements.
Father John Reeves, OCA Church Growth Director, opened Boot Camp by calling our attention to the "Vision Tree" on the first page of our workbooks [provided by Church Multiplication Training Center (CMTC), Ft. Wayne, Indiana, © 2000, and compiled for Orthodox Christians]. Each part of the Vision Tree stood for a particular part of the church growth process:
Soil -----------Scriptural Foundation
Roots ---------Core Values
Trunk ---------Mission Statement
Branches ----Essential Ministry Activities
Leaves --------Goals and Objectives
Fruits ---------Results of Ministries
(Yes, you really can have fun working for church growth).
As Fr. John explained, we all have the same Soil. However, the Roots, Trunk, Branches, and Leaves are unique to each parish. The Fruits depend on how each parish determines, treats, strategically plans for, and implements the other parts of the tree, while the Swing reminds us to enjoy our efforts.
Growing a parish involves more than just the Trunk, i.e., having a mission statement, we quickly learned. A mission statement can be very empty if proper groundwork hasn't previously been done. As Fr. John pointed out, "A mission statement means nothing unless we have the behavior to back it up." Further, he specified that our behavior, as a parish, indicates what our core values are. (This does not refer to the ethnic group(s) to which we belong). "A person's day planner and checkbook show [how that person really behaves and] what that person really values," Fr. John edified. It is the same for each parish. Our parish behavior is "the most accurate indicator of [our parish core] values…how do we spend our time, and how do we spend our money"?
"Core values are consistent, zeal evoking and distinctive, convictions that determine our priorities, drive our ministry and are demonstrated by our behavior." (CMTC Orthodox workbook, p. 3) In short, our core values tell everyone outside our church family who we are as a parish. Fr. John cautioned that if we don't accurately identify our core values, our strategic planning will be unsatisfying. Also, failure to specify core values creates misunderstandings among parishioners and, ultimately, conflict.
To help us better understand the concepts of behavior and core values, we did a small-group exercise using Acts 2:42-45. This passage shows how these concepts were demonstrated in the early church. It was enlightening to read and work with these verses. In general, this passage provided an unmistakable contrast to how our own parishes behave today. In particular, it became evident to us how much Orthodox-Christian behavior and core values changed during the 20th century. Next, we were asked to identify what we thought the core values of our own parish were at present. Following this, we moved on to developing a vision.
The concept of vision is connected to core values. Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff of St. John the Theologian Orthodox Church in Shirley, Long Island, New York, explained this. Fr. Jonathan stated that vision involves clarity. "Vision develops positive mental images and pictures that motivate people," and "vision comes from God." (OCTC Orthodox workbook, p. 7) "First," Fr. Jonathan pointed out, "we must ask what we want our parish to look like two to three years from now." Then, we need to ask God for His guidance as we patiently listen to each other.
Fr.Jonathan stated that prayer is extremely important as we determine our parish's vision. This is because God already has a vision and a calling for each and every parish. So, if we want our parish to grow, we'd best find out what God wants us to do, or what we do won't work. A Godly vision "requires risk-taking," but His vision also "promotes faith rather than fear," and "glorifies God not people." (OCTC Orthodox workbook, p. 8) An exercise also followed this session. We brainstormed and listed several statements that specifically describe what our church would look like in a few years if the OCTC Orthodox, church-growth process were implemented. This prepared us for the next step, developing the mission statement.
Fr. Deacon Michael Myers of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, described the mission-statement process. "A clear mission statement answers three questions:
1. Who is your ministry focus group?
2. What needs are you seeking to meet?
3. How will you accomplish your mission. Note: Don't confuse mission with vision. Vision describes a desired future; mission defines the overall strategy to get there." (OCTC Orthodox workbook, p. 10)
Deacon Michael explained that successful church growth depends on targeting a specific focus group of people, towards which we want to place our main efforts. It is asking, "Who is God calling us to minister to"? (Focusing on only one group of people does not mean everyone else is excluded. It is simply, realistically impossible to be all things to all people all at once). Again, prayer is involved here. Prayerfully, we must look at the focus group and decide what its needs are. Then, we can plan our missionary endeavors but with the focus group always in mind.
The mission statement we ultimately select must be very clear. It must first state who we are, then what group we are focusing on, and finally how we intend to meet this group's needs (not our own needs). Creating the mission statement involves several steps, such as selecting specific words that "describe what makes [our] church unique." (OCTC Orthodox workbook, p. 12) Then we need to evaluate the proposed mission statement by questioning it. For example, my mission statement could be something like this: "Pearl Homiak, editor of "The Evangelist," St. Luke's parish and outreach newsletter, is obligated to fulfill the information needs of our readers by providing articles, drawings and pictures that describe church-related activities and events." (Not perfect, but it's a start). Some of the unique words in this statement are "editor," "obligated," and "providing." To make sure my mission statement does what it is supposed to do, I evaluate it. Does it tell who I am, what group I am focusing on, and how I am fulfilling my focus group's needs? Moreover, does it have "staying power"? As in my mission statement, the clarity of our parish mission statement is very important, because it will drive everything else we do to grow our parish.
An especially thought-provoking speaker at Boot Camp was Dr. Tom Clegg, Vice President of Church Resource Ministries, at the Church Multiplication Training Center. He has written an important book called Lost in America. As he spoke, he stated some very revealing facts. "North America is the only continent in which Christianity is not growing." Also, "the percentage of adults in the U.S. who attend church is decreasing."
For our churches to grow, Dr. Clegg indicated that a prayer team is absolutely necessary. I Timothy 2:1 states: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone." Dr. Clegg agreed. "Parishes that don't pray for growth won't grow," he stated. As our own St. Innocent of Alaska wrote in 1853 "the first and most efficient preparation is prayer, which alone can open the spring of highest teaching and bring down a blessing upon every good beginning and work. Therefore always, and especially before addressing those whom thou wishest to illumine with the light of truth, turn towards God in ardent prayer." (Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, p. 238; CMTC workbook, p. 17) Dr. Clegg confirmed this. "We need to be constantly praying for the growth of the church," he emphasized. Again, we must pray to God for guidance and direction and "to send us people as missionaries and as converts."
Dr Clegg shared with us, as a true illustration, that 400 people were praying for our Boot Camp. (He had asked 20 people to pray for him at Boot Camp and 20 people to pray for the first praying 20). When I heard this, I was strangely not surprised. Since the beginning of Boot Camp, I had sensed a brightness and peace I still can't describe. In all of our brainstorming and discussions, Boot Camp participants disagreed on certain things as individuals, but we gladly worked together toward common goals.
The other Vision-Tree topics (Branches, Leaves, and Fruits) were also discussed during Boot Camp. In addition, we also learned about developing a "missionary mindset," the results of a shared vision, how to plan to implement this church growth process, and how to improve people's first impressions of our church and parish. Frs. Reeves and Ivanoff, Deacon Myers, and Dr. Clegg again facilitated discussions on these ideas and engaged us in hands-on and other group activities.
I was very impressed with Boot Camp, as were the other participants. Fr. Joseph Wargo, pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Lyndora, Pennsylvania, declared, "I'm glad I came. Boot Camp gave me more than I expected. It was organized, in depth, and gave us a good foundation to work from." Fr. Joseph especially liked working on the clarifying flow charts involving church-growth ministries and other activities."
Fr. Jason Kappanadze, pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Elmira Heights, New York, who also produces the Everyday tapes, was also at Boot Camp. He felt that Boot Camp was "one of the best things the OCA is doing" and "extremely necessary." He correctly perceived that the sessions were "well thought out and presented with understanding." He maintained that Boot Camp "goes beneath the surface and gets to things that need changing. It is candid, honest, and not a 'gloss'." Fr. Jason really enjoyed being with the gathering of motivated Orthodox Christians from so many different parishes. "This is like the yeast that can go out and leaven the whole lump," he reflected.
The materials used in Boot Camp were very professionally compiled. The Christian Ministries Training Center (CMTC) originally formulated the Boot Camp process. They now adapt it for denominations that then use it for their congregations. I asked Dr. Clegg what he thought when he first encountered church-growth-minded Orthodox Christians at the 1999 Church Growth Conference held in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, which was sponsored by the Antiochian Archdiocese. He said he was "surprised that the Orthodox wanted to do this." He indicated that he was "delighted and intrigued" with the Orthodox Christians that were at the conference. He said he observed a "higher bias for change, for growth" among them than he had seen in some other church groups. "It appears," Dr. Clegg continued, "that [Orthodox Christians] have a greater receptivity for the process." In about a year, he noted, CMTC plans to examine the effectiveness of their church growth process, Orthodox style, among our parishes to see how it is progressing.
In his closing remarks, Fr. John Reeves reminded us that we "must open our eyes to the future before us in English-speaking lands and see ourselves as missionaries." When Jesus Christ lived on Earth, He told His disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature," (Mark 16:15) and "make disciples of all the nations." (Matt 28:19) However, He means for us to do this today, too. When He said, "Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest" (John 4:35), Christ means for us to see this in the present, too. And when Jesus promised, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20), He means for us who evangelize and do missionary work now to be encouraged by this, too.
Church growth can happen in any Orthodox parish, but it is up to the priest and parishioners of each parish to work together to make it happen. As Fr. John clarified, "Boot Camp does not provide answers. It only provides the beginning of a tool kit for us to provide our own answers." If Boot Camp is just the beginning, I can hardly wait on the Swing for the rest of the process to continue. The next church-growth event for 2001 is the Antiochian Archdiocese's Church Growth Conference. This is again being held in Ligonier, PA, from August 31st to September 3rd (Labor Day weekend). Make the commitment to attend this valuable and inspiring gathering this year. (See Fr. Andrew or Lee Kopulos for details). We Boot Campers hope to see you there!