We must all be disciples of Christ
In recent years, Orthodox Christians in the United States have become very mission minded. We see as a community the importance of bringing the Orthodox faith to what the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey published by the Pew Charitable Trust calls "the American religious marketplace." Ours is a religious age characterized by "constant movement."
Given the ease with which Americans change religious affiliations making new members is not the primary challenge. The real challenge, the Survey suggests, is retention, of actually keeping the members that we have. Our witness to the Gospel is undermined by the general lack of commitment to the life of the Church by a plurality of Orthodox Christians. And this is true whether we are talking about those baptized as infants or those who join the Church as adults. If anything, the empirical data highlights the pastoral importance of stressing not simply catechesis (religious education) evangelism (making new Orthodox Christians).
The survey data gives us an overview of religious life in American and the place of the Orthodox Church in this broader context. Filled with charts, graphs, and statistics the report is not something that most of us are likely just to pick and read. In what follows, rather than a rigorous statistical analysis of the Church's life, I offer some points for reflection based on the survey. My goal is to help laity and clergy understand that catechesis and evangelism must be combined with a pastoral commitment to the personal discipleship of all members of the Church.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
To begin, let's look at an Orthodox parish with an average Sunday attendance of say, 200 adults. (I've rounded numbers to make it a bit easier for us.)
Looking around, the congregation is evenly divided between men (94) and women (106). Most of the community members (154) were baptized as infants. Interestingly, about as many of here this morning were born overseas as became Orthodox Christians as adults (48 of were born outside the US and 46 are converts).
There are about 85 children under the age of 18 here this morning. And maybe this is where we might want to being thinking about the importance of personal discipleship.
Of the 85 or so children here this morning, only 64 or so will still be in church as adults. And, unless something changes, only about a third of these children will attend the Divine Liturgy on a weekly basis when they are adults. So in a few years time, this morning's 85 children will shrink to a weekly congregation of 23 adults.
Surprisingly, at least relative to the American scene in general and the broader Christian community in particular, we're doing good job in keeping children in the Church through adulthood. Almost three quarters of those who were raised as Orthodox Christians are still in the Church as adults compared to 68% of Catholics and 52% of Protestants adults are still members of their childhood tradition. Clearly we could be doing better, but we could be doing worse, much worse in fact.
"Well what about converts?" you might ask, "Certainly, their dedicated, right?" Well, not really, or at least not as much as we might imagine.
Read the entire article on the American Orthodox Institute website (new window will open).