Growing Your Greek Orthodox Church

We here at Church Growth Net help congregations of all Christian faiths grow their church. This included Greek Orthodox.

Let me first of all say that the success of a church should not be defined by the number of people who show up on Sunday, and in that regard, Greek Orthodox churches are no different. However, there are several opportunities to enhance the guest experience of your Greek Orthodox church that can lead to growth and, ultimately, life improvement. Many of these relate to the larger culture of Greece.

We all know that Greeks are very tied to their culture in general, as well as the religion specifically. The Ancient Greeks were a very religious people, but they believed in many Gods, so they were polytheists. 

For the Ancient Greeks, the Gods were immortal and they lived forever on the top of Olympus, which is the highest mountain in Greece. The Greeks believed that the Gods had not only a human-like physical appearance, but also similar feelings and behaviors. 

But what about today’s Greek Orthodox Church?

What is a Modern Greek Orthodox Church?

Greek-Orthodox is an officially recognized community in the Roman Catholic Church. When the Greek Catholic community started, it was in line with the Greek Orthodox religion, but eventually the Greek Catholic community changed alignment and accepted Latin theology. Although the Catholic religion as a whole is considered a Christian religion and has a specific set of beliefs, there are some small differences that separate the Catholic church into its various branches.

The two main divisions of the Catholic Church are the Greek, or Eastern, and the Latin, or Western. The Western Catholic Branch is also known as the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Catholic Branch is also known as the Greek Orthodox Church. The two sides make up the world Catholic church.

Although the Greek Catholic community and the Greek Orthodox community are both followers of Eastern rites, the Greek Catholic community is a separate entity from the Greek Orthodox community. 

This is because the Greek-Catholic community accepts the leadership of the Roman pope, and the Greek-Orthodox community does not. In addition to the acceptance of the Pope by the community, the Greek-Catholic community has also adopted many rituals, prayers and other customs of the Western Catholic Church.

The basic principles of the Catholic faith remain the same for Catholics around the world, but the Eastern and Western Catholic branches and their subdivisions differ in some areas of theology. The Greek-Catholic community accepts the Western traditions of purgatory and papal infallibility. The Greek Orthodox community, however, does not accept these Western theological concepts.

The Greek-Catholic community adheres to the Byzantine rite, also called the Constantinople rite. Although this community is considered to be in line with the Roman Catholic church, there are some distinctive features in the Byzantine rite that set it apart. For example, the Greek Catholic Church uses leavened bread for communion, and allows both married and single men to become priests.

antique greek church

In addition to these differences, the way church worship sessions are run differs from the Western Catholic worship session. Greek Catholics and Greek Orthodox churches use singing in their worship, but Western Catholics lean towards the use of recitation. Greek Catholics usually stand during the worship service, but are allowed to move during the service.

The Byzantine Catholic community strictly enforces fasting laws, which state that certain foods are prohibited on specific days. Followers of the Byzantine rite, including Greek Catholics, are required to fast weekly. This is in addition to the fasting seasons that occur four times a year.

Growing Your Greek Orthodox Church

Growing a church numerically, no matter the denomination, can be difficult. And while numbers aren’t everything, they do matter. They indicate a liveliness and an attractive quality that Jesus had, too. 

All over the world, church leaders have tried almost everything to get people to show up on Sundays, from sleeping on the roof of the church to being sealed in a box for four days. Increasing church attendance is built on a multitude of things, but there are some “tricks” or intentional changes you can make that will help people get through doors and want to return.

Renew your church website

Your website is like a store window. It should be cool and tell a piece of your story. It should make people think “Wow, this church cares about what people think of them.”

Your website is your invitation for people to peer inside to see who is talking, what the music is like, and see welcoming people.

I can also be your church bell to let people know it’s Sunday service time.

Investing a little time and money in a quality website will speak a lot about who you are as a church and will help you increase your church attendance.

Focus on first impressions

While visiting a church recently, I noticed that one of the associate pastors was the most outgoing person on staff, probably in the whole church. This pastor knew every name and squeezed every hand that entered the door. People were waiting in line to talk to her, just because of how caring and outgoing she was.

Who is the staff person, the head of the ministry, or the volunteer at your church who makes the best first impression? Why not free them before and after service times to connect with newcomers? 

Find these individuals in each of the demographics that attend your church  and have them interact with newcomers in a warm and inviting way. A handshake and a ”Welcome! We are happy that you are here!” can make a difference in the world for someone visiting.

Update your children’s facilities

Maybe it’s time to paint over that Noah’s Ark mural. We’re not saying you need to remodel the entire building, although it can help, but a fresh coat of paint and some new lighting could be a start. Parents research meticulously when choosing new schools for their children, and will be equally selective when visiting churches for the first time.

Parents expect the best for their kids, so make sure your kids’ ministry staff and volunteers are smiling, inviting, and helpful during the check-in process. An outdated children’s ministry can be a deal-breaker for families who might otherwise show up on a Sunday.

greek orthodox architecture

Common Struggles of Greek Orthodox Churches

If your house of worship struggles with declining frequency, you are not alone. The percentage of parishioners attending church “religiously” has decreased, most likely due to a combination of factors such as logistical obstacles and competing obligations.

Whatever the reason, the question remains: How do you reverse the worrying trend of declining participation? How do you reconnect with former church-goers, inspire infrequent church-goers, and continue to engage active church-goers? Here are a few ideas…

Design a mission statement that reflects your desire for growth

First things first: Get everyone – EVERYONE – to your church on board with a mission focused on growth. Clearly articulate the mission, write it down, and spread it among the congregation. Help them understand that growing a church takes time, energy, and resources. It is a marathon, not a sprint – a team sport, not an individual event.

Create a welcoming environment for new visitors

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Create a warm and welcoming environment for new visitors and they will be more likely to return. Take a step back and evaluate your church from the perspective of a newcomer.

Is it clear where to enter the church for worship? Are you readily greeted by an usher or other congregation members? Does the pastor make an effort to welcome you and encourage you to return? Improving new visitor retention could be as easy as implementing a simple follow-up call from a pastor.

Involve current and active members

It may seem counterintuitive. Shouldn’t we focus on people who don’t come to church, and not on those who already are? Well, a key to growing church attendance is to turn ordinary members into “passionate champions of mission.” In other words, it drives engagement in active church members by challenging them to serve, preaching action, and rewarding progress.

greek dancing

An easy way to mobilize current members? Equip them with tools that make it easier to invite guests to church, for example, invite cards, a shareable social media graphic, or a pre-written email. How about a Greek Festival to celebrate the larger culture? Host a potluck dinner with Mediterranean Diet specialties from the Greek islands!

Serve your community

Volunteering in your community not only reflects your mission to serve others, it also brings community awareness to your church. Volunteer to clean up a local park, help run a soup kitchen, or organize a community-wide event. Recruit young families by serving nearby elementary schools: help paint their playground equipment, assist with landscaping, or invite elementary school families to enroll their children for Sunday school or Bible school holidays. Be sure to have church brochures or fact sheets on hand, or wear church t-shirts so that people can visually connect volunteers with your church.

Develop a strong social media presence

These days, a “set it and forget it” mentality towards social media isn’t going to cut it. To reap the benefits of social media, you need to put some effort into maintaining your church’s accounts. Posting regularly – sharing church news, event updates, even favorite Bible verses – will not only engage current church members, but also attract new members looking for an active, vibrant church community. 

Greek Orthodox Church Growth

No matter your faith, the drop in church attendance can be frustrating and saddening, but there are steps you can take to strengthen and build your organization. Implement the tips above – embrace them as part of your church culture – and greater participation can follow.

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