Skip to Navigation

Florida Priest Sees Outreach Program Grow in Depth and Numbers

By Fr. Michael Byars, Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Ormond Beach, FL

For many years I have felt that in my parish, and in Orthodox Christian parishes in general, there is a need for an evangelism program that is more than simply posting the time of our services and asking parishioners to invite friends to the liturgy. The Divine Liturgy is definitely very powerful and full of the Grace of God. However, I think that most of our parishioners hesitate to invite others to come to an Orthodox Liturgy without laying some ground work that they often do not feel equipped to do. I also suspect that the liturgical services of our church would be even more effective if there were some way to give solid introduction ahead of time.

My experience with evangelism programs, however, has not been positive. I think this is because the focus or the motives of these programs have been wrong. The focus most often seems to be on numbers and the motive often is church growth for the sake of filling the church pews, or even worse, increasing church revenues. I believe true Christian evangelism should be motivated out of love and the desire to share the true life giving Christian faith. We have this treasure in the Orthodox Church. I have thought that it would be great to have a structured evangelism program with this approach. When I was introduced to The Becoming Truly Human Program it immediately attracted my enthusiasm first of all because this program is exactly that.

Another wonderful attraction for me about this program is that it focuses on lay participation and leadership. In other words it is not up to the parish priest to get it started or keep it going. It has been my experience that the liturgical, pastoral, and administrative responsibilities of a normal parish can be overwhelming for the priest, leaving little time for much else. The Becoming Truly Human Program is designed to be lay driven under the authority of the parish priest as spiritual father.

In my parish in Ormond Beach, FL I am blessed to have significant group of people who travel over 50 miles from St. Augustine, FL to be a part of our parish life. I do my best to minister to them but have often thought it would be great to have some type of group session for them, such as a Study or Discussion Group. To do this myself would be extremely difficult. Also, to develop a program for such a group would take much time and planning.

When the Becoming Truly Human Program was introduced to me by Adam Roberts, I automatically thought of this group in St. Augustine. In this group were a few lay people that I believed with, guidance, could get a discovery group going. I gave their names to Adam and he (not myself) approached them with the program's concept. They were very excited and asked for my approval . We started the program at the beginning of March right at the beginning of Lent. The group had a slow start, and some of the people involved at the beginning were preoccupied with health and other practical problems. They were persistent though, and now this discovery group has grown from four people to seventeen people.

The people involved in this have been greatly enriched spiritually. We also have one very serious catechumen and several other non-orthodox inquirers that are on the verge of becoming full catechumens. A few have come to be with us for the Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings. From my perspective this is a very successful program simply for the sake of the spiritual health of our new friends.

This program is systematic and yet flexible. It is based on an open, non-threatening, and truly loving philosophy. This is the strength of the program. The goal is not great numbers but changed lives. We, as Orthodox Christians, should have a desire to share with others the kingdom of God. One of the sayings attributed to St. John Chrysostom is, "I do not believe in the salvation of anyone who does not try to save others." This program is one effective way of doing this.

This evangelism program offers a loving vehicle for our people and others to take time they generally do not take, to ask themselves the fundamental questions of life, and gently offers them some guidance. I recommend that all of our parishes take the spiritual outreach program of Becoming Truly Human seriously and to let the Holy Spirit work wonders, both with our existing parishioners, and those who are seeking God.