Palm Sunday is fast approaching. Our churches will once again be filled with the faithful we love, but don’t see as often as we would like. Our first inclination may be to scold or at least lay on the guilt. But maybe laying on a load of “you shoulds” is not the most effective way to get people to come back on Sundays throughout the year.
It’s good to remember why people come to church in the first place. Research has shown that people are generally seeking three things from their church: Transcendence - experiencing the presence of God, Significance - service to our fellow human beings and Community - connecting though meaningful relationships (Source: Lost in America by Clegg & Bird). So, on this Palm Sunday, when we see many of our less regular attendees, maybe we can do our best to provide a prayerful, undistracted divine liturgy, offer an update on parish charitable activities and create an opportunity for fellowship of our faithful.
Some of the criticisms we often hear from those that have fallen away from church are: “It’s all about the money,” “It’s too long” and “I don’t understand the worship service.” Maybe we don’t need to pass extra trays just because we see the church filled to capacity. Maybe we could pick up the tempo of the Liturgy, showing people that liturgy doesn’t have to be so long. And maybe we could use more English in order to better connect with our American-born parishioners and the non-Orthodox family members.
One priest makes it a practice to come out at the end of Palm Sunday liturgy, welcome the people, thank them for coming and then address these usual criticisms of church, saying, “Thank you for being with us today. I know many people don’t come to church because it’s too long, or it’s too Greek, or it’s all about the money.” But today we completed the liturgy in an hour and 20 minutes, we did the liturgy mostly in English and we passed only ONE tray. So, please come back!”
Some resources provided by our Department that help in your outreach efforts this time of year are:
Engaging our faithful and inquirers in the life of the Church requires a deeper understanding of the Divine Liturgy. This 26-page booklet provides an engaging summary that may be read cover to cover or consulted as questions arise. Suggested for the pew rack, literature table and parish bookstore.
An inspiring pamphlet intended for distribution at the Resurrection service on Saturday evening of Holy Week that encourages individuals to let the light of the Resurrection be lit in their hearts, to grow in their faith and to rediscover their calling as Orthodox Christians.