Anthony Dr. Dragani is an Assistant Professor of
Religious Studies at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson,
Pennsylvania. He has an M.A. in Theology from Franciscan
University of Steubenville, and a Ph.D. in Systematic
Theology from Duquesne University. A Byzantine Catholic, Dr.
Dragani frequently lectures and writes on topics related to
spirituality and ecumenism
Order Anthony's critical examination of Adrian Fortescue, one of
England's foremost authorities on Eastern Christianity Place
A Practical Guide to Evangelization for Byzantine Catholic
by Anthony T. Dragani, MA
In this guide, I have labored to present a practical strategy of
parish-based evangelization. Many of the concepts utilized I
have carefully selected from the writings of Protestant
evangelists, who have demonstrated a high aptitude in this
field. Other ideas have also been drawn from the writings of
Catholic and Eastern Orthodox evangelists. However, I have only
included those approaches that are well suited for the typical
Byzantine Catholic parish. Our parishes have their own unique
strengths and weaknesses, and these have been taken into
consideration when writing this guide.
In the Protestant world, much research has gone into the study
of evangelization. Many Protestant scholars have become experts
on the subject, and have developed it into a "science" known as
church growth. Drawing on insights from sociology, psychology,
and other fields of study, church growth experts have developed
approaches to evangelization that yield proven results. In a
very real sense church growth can be considered a true science
"with theories that can be tested and proven."
The strategy presented in this guide is essentially
parish-based. For numerous reasons, denomination wide
evangelization is not as effective. Ultimately, it is the
quality and outreach of the local congregation that will attract
new membership. Given this circumstance, what role should a
diocesan office or committee of evangelization play" It should
first and foremost serve to assist individual parishes in
implementing a plan of evangelization. Likewise, it should only
focus its efforts on those parishes that wish to grow. Some
parishes unfortunately have no desire to expand their
membership. A diocesan office would be wasting its time trying
to help a congregation (and typically pastor) that has no desire
for growth. Instead, the diocesan office should only expend its
energy and resources supporting those parishes that request its
aid in implementing a strategy for growth.
Before proceeding, a few words of caution are in order. First
and foremost, evangelization must be pursued with integrity. In
no way can the theology or worship of the parish be diluted in
an attempt to increase attendance. As warned by evangelization
expert Peter Barna, "any church growth strategy that is geared
to increasing the number of people without emphasizing the
necessity of commitment to Jesus Christ is working in opposition
to scriptural command." In incorporating new members into the
Church, it is crucial that the Gospel message is not watered
down. Barna warns against following the example of a certain
well-known Protestant "cathedral":
A church in Southern California began with less than a dozen
people attending the first week"s service. You cannot find a
seat in the sanctuary today, because more than 10,000 people
regularly file into the church every Sunday. But the growth of
the church occurred as a consequence of spiritual compromise.
People who attend that church see a good show, but they don"t
hear the gospel the way Jesus proclaimed it. Yes, this church is
well marketed, but it is marketed for a different purpose than
to serve Jesus Christ.
It is also important to remember that there are no magic
formulas for successful evangelization. Ultimately, it is not
slick tactics or brilliant strategies that cause a parish to
flourish, but the work of the Holy Spirit. Hence, persistent
prayer must accompany all efforts.
The Necessity of Evangelization
In recent centuries, Eastern Christianity has been very lax in
the field of evangelization. We have rightly focused on serving
the needs of our people, but sometimes to the exclusion of
spreading the Gospel to those who have not heard it.
Historically, this has not always been the case. In the ninth
century, SS. Cyril and Methodius conducted a successful mission
to the Slavs, under the patronage of St. Photius the Great. And
in the nineteenth century the Russian Orthodox mission to Alaska
bore great fruit. It is unfortunate that the missionary
imperative seems to have fallen on the back burner since then.
The most compelling reason to evangelize is to fulfill Jesus"
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on
earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I
have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close
of the age."
The tendency of Eastern Christian Churches to minister
exclusively to one ethnic group, failing to "make disciples of
all nations" directly contradicts the will of Christ. Christ"s
Church is to be universal, spreading the Gospel to all persons
of every racial and ethnic background. In as much as we neglect
evangelization, we fail to be Christ"s Church.
Archbishop Joseph Tawil, a revered leader of the Byzantine
Melkite Catholic Church, cautioned against an emphasis on
ethnicity. Much like the late Metropolitan Judson Procyk,
Archbishop Tawil envisioned an Eastern Catholic Church open to
all Americans. He eloquently spoke of this in a famous Christmas
One day all of our ethnic traits " language, folklore, customs "
will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we
cannot think of our communities as ethnic parishes, primarily
for the service of the immigrant or ethnically oriented, unless
we wish to assure the death of our community. Our Churches are
not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow
Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth
the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its
Archbishop Joseph warns of the danger of our Church vanishing in
North America. Research indicates that this is a very real
possibility. The best evidence clearly suggests that parishes
that neglect evangelization tend to stagnate or decline in
America. Studies show that the typical congregation will lose
6% to 10% of its membership annually. This loss is
attributed to parishioners dying, relocating, and dropping out.
For a parish to thrive, it must annually replace these lost
members " or face eventual extinction.
There is a prevalent false assumption in how these lost members
are to be replaced. Most Byzantine Catholic parishes wrongly
assume that the children will take their place. The sad truth is
that most of the children raised in our parishes will not be
there as adults. In our transient society, most of these
children will either move away or join other Churches. Very
often less than 10% of the children found in a parish will
remain there in adulthood.
Also, denominational loyalty is not nearly as strong as it was
in previous generations. In our consumer-oriented culture,
young people are accustomed to shopping for the institution that
best meets their needs. The reality that they were raised in a
specific tradition is unlikely to assure that they will not
leave for something more appealing. One fact is clear: the
parishes that grow and flourish are those that actively
In the past decade, Eastern Christianity has demonstrated an
unprecedented appeal in the United States. While there are no
firm figures, it is probable that as many as ten thousand
Evangelical Protestants have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in
the past ten years. Father Peter Gillquist, a former Protestant
minister whom once led Campus Crusade for Christ, is now
director of evangelization for the Antiochian Orthodox
Archdiocese of North America. He believes that Orthodoxy"s
present success is largely due to dispelling the myth that it is
an exclusively ethnic Church. Orthodoxy offers magnificent
worship, sound theology, and a rich treasury of spirituality.
Once North Americans were made aware of its existence, and that
they were welcome to join, many jumped at the opportunity. I
am firmly convinced that Byzantine Catholicism is also capable
of attracting an influx of new members, provided that we also
unambiguously open our parishes to all Americans.
Phase I: Preparing the Parish
Before beginning evangelization per se, it is crucial to prepare
the parish for what is about to occur. Many Byzantine Catholic
congregations are not familiar with visitors, and often times do
not know how to properly welcome perceived "outsiders."
Well-intentioned parishioners are often prone to ask visitors
such questions as "Are you a Rusyn"" or the infamous "What is
your last name"" Questions such as these send a strong signal of
exclusivity to visitors, who most likely will never return.
What typically needs to occur is a change in a parish"s
self-perception. Most of our parishioners subconsciously believe
their parishes to exist for the preservation of ethnic identity.
There is some historical warrant for this belief. In the Old
Country the Church was a crucial means of safeguarding national
identity. However, this approach is not tenable in North
America. Our young people think of themselves as Americans first
and usually have little ethnic consciousness. They are attracted
to the Roman Church, which they perceive as being universal and
American. Hence, the hyper-ethnic parish often unwittingly
drives out the young people, and excludes potential new members
" ensuring its immanent demise.
To be successful, a Byzantine parish must become conscious of a
greater purpose. The congregation must first come to understand
that Christ"s Church exists to spread the Good News to all
persons. Evangelization is a fundamental aspect of the Church"s
mission, not an optional activity. This must be clearly
communicated to the congregation. Regular homilies are an
effective tool in conveying this message. If there is still
resistance, it may be necessary to warn of the eventual
likelihood of the parish dying through lack of membership.
Most visitors will have their first contact with the parish at
Sunday morning Divine Liturgy. It is important that this first
impression be a positive one. To ensure that it is, certain
practices must be implemented before the visitors arrive. One of
the best things that a parish can do in preparation for growth
is to assign greeters to the main entrance and exits. Greeters
must be carefully selected, and briefly trained to recognize and
welcome visitors. The greeter must understand that he or she is
there first and foremost to make the newcomer feel welcome and
comfortable. Today, most Roman Catholic parishes have
greeters, and find them to be a true blessing.
It is especially necessary that the greeters interact with the
visitors immediately after worship, as well as before. According
to Robert Bast, Minister of Evangelism for the Reformed Church
in America, the moments following the end of Sunday worship are
among the most important in determining whether or not a visitor
will return. Rev. Bast cautions that "this can be the loneliest
moment of all, if everyone is greeting friends, while the
visitor goes up the aisle in a pocket of isolated silence."
Designated greeters with good hospitality skills can prevent
such awkwardness from occurring. Experience proves that
"when visitors feel that no one cares whether or not they have
come, they are not likely to return."
It is also useful to give the visitor something to take home as
a reminder of the visit. A simple visitor"s packet, distributed
by the greeters, can make a powerful impact. It is not necessary
to arrange an elaborate selection of information, as it can
overwhelm the reader. Rather, a successful visitor's packet need
only consist of a manila envelope containing a parish brochure,
a brief introduction to Eastern Catholicism, and an invitation
to join the parish.
I also highly recommend erecting a literature rack near the
church entrance. The Melkite office of religious education
offers a wonderful selection of leaflets on Eastern Catholicism
at a very reasonable price. A literature rack stocked with such
leaflets can sufficiently answer many questions that the visitor
may have. Nearby there should also be a guestbook, where
visitors can leave their names and addresses to receive parish
One of the most effective preparations for evangelization is
already in place in many of our parishes: the post-Liturgy
coffee hour. Most visitors are looking for a community where
they can feel comfortable. The friendliness of a congregation is
perhaps the most important factor in attracting a new
member. According to Bast, "Coffee/fellowship time after
worship is indispensable for the church that intends to attract
and keep visitors. It provides an immediate occasion for
inviting, and an excellent opportunity for socializing. Without
it, visitors are unlikely to remain long enough to meet anyone
in the church." I have to confess a special fondness for
this practice, as these coffee hours played a major role in my
own introduction to the Byzantine Catholic community.
During this phase of preparation, I strongly recommend that the
pastor appoint an evangelization task force to implement the
strategy. This will usually consist of a group of five to seven
people who show genuine interest in the growth of the
parish. As many of our pastors are already stressed for
time, it is essential for them to delegate responsibility to a
task force. If the parish is blessed with a permanent
deacon, it would be wise to place him in charge of the effort.
Phase II: Attracting the Visitor
Once the parish has been properly prepared, it is time to begin
attracting visitors. Our chief obstacle in this task is
overcoming widespread ignorance. Most Americans are oblivious to
the existence of Eastern Christianity. The common presupposition
is that the Christian world is divided between Roman Catholics
and Protestants. An educated few may be aware of Eastern
Orthodoxy. Even less are aware of Eastern Catholicism.
Among those who know about Eastern Christianity, it is commonly
believed that Eastern Christian parishes are ethnic enclaves.
Most Americans are not aware that they are welcome to attend and
join an Eastern parish. Therefore, our task is two-fold. First,
we must make others aware of our existence. And second, we must
inform them that they are welcome to join our parishes.
With these two objectives in mind, we will now briefly explore
some of the best techniques for attracting visitors. While this
list is by no means exhaustive, it does present what I believe
to be the most effective techniques available.
The Church Sign
This is one of the most overlooked tools of evangelization. A
visible sign with accurate liturgy times can have significant
impact. Bast remarks that "possibly the single most important
advertising a church can do is through the sign it has in front
of its building." He recommends a readable, simple sign that
is perpendicular to the road. Service times are a must, and
accuracy is crucial. Very often our parishes neglect posting
Liturgy times outside of the building. The assumption is that
everyone who needs to know the Liturgy times can just look in
the bulletin. This presumption fails to consider the possibility
Because of the widespread belief that Eastern parishes are
exclusively ethnic, we must take extra measures to let potential
visitors know that they are welcome. The sign is an excellent
place to do this. A simple phrase such as "Everyone is Welcome"
can go a long way in this regard.
The Yellow Pages
Market research indicates that people under the age of forty use
the yellow pages extensively. Frequently, families who have
recently moved into the area will consult the yellow pages to
find a church to join. This is a golden opportunity for
parish growth that should not be passed up. It is recommended
that the parish take as large an advertisement as is affordable.
Include in the ad liturgy times, an attractive description of
the parish, and a phone number and address. I suggest
emphasizing our majestic, mystical worship. Again, a slogan such
as "Everyone is Welcome" is essential.
The Mailing List
A mailing list of previous visitors and friends of the parish
can be an invaluable resource. Such a list can be cultivated
through the guestbook mentioned earlier. A well-maintained list
can be used to regularly send out notices of upcoming events, as
well as invitations to worship with the parish during holidays.
Such letters of invitation can bring back someone who otherwise
may have forgotten about the parish. With every mailing, I
strongly suggest sending an attractive, professionally designed
parish brochure. A professional copying establishment can
produce such a brochure for a very reasonable price. Be certain
to include in it accurate Liturgy times, directions to the
parish, and activities such as scripture studies and youth
An information night is an opportunity to introduce the church
to the local community. Eastern Orthodox missions throughout
North America have used such information nights with great
success. Frederica Matthews-Green, a famous convert to
Orthodoxy from Protestantism, writes of the use of information
nights by her growing mission parish:
We hold evenings like this a couple of times a year, and from
past experience I know that some of these strangers will be
joining us as regulars at Holy Cross. We sing through Vespers"
After I describe my conversion to Christ and journey to
Orthodoxy, Carl speaks a little more knowledgeably about the
Orthodox Church; after all, he has a recent doctorate in
Byzantine history" As the meeting breaks up we move to the
fellowship room for platters of snacks that include plenty of
cold cuts and sausages, since everyone"s clearing out
refrigerators. The crowd is jovial, and the conversations go on
A successful information night has several key ingredients.
First, it must be well advertised. A noticeable newspaper
advertisement is called for, inviting the community to discover
the rich spirituality of the Byzantine Church. If a guest
speaker will be present, his or her name and credentials should
also be mentioned. A flyer should also be sent to everyone on
the mailing list.
Second, an engaging speaker must deliver the talk. Absolutely
nothing is more effective than a convert to Byzantine
Catholicism telling his or her story. The advertisements are
likely to attract spiritual seekers who will readily identify
with conversion stories. Such accounts are easy to relate to,
and are almost never boring. If the parish does not have any
converts, one should be recruited from a neighboring parish for
the event. Most converts are full of zeal for their newfound
Church, and will gladly share their stories.
Third, contacts must be made. An information night is an
excellent opportunity for visitors to meet regular parishioners.
Much like a coffee hour, the information night is also a chance
to demonstrate the sense of fellowship present in the parish.
Also, every visitor should be given a printout inviting him or
her to join the parish, with instructions on how to do so.
Visitor addresses should also be collected, and added to the
mailing list. With a minimal amount of planning, information
nights can be as effective for Byzantine parishes as they have
been for Orthodox missions.
Phase III: Incorporating New Members into the Parish
Once a visitor expresses interest in the parish, it is
imperative to provide opportunities for him or her to become
incorporated into the life of the community. The key principle
is that a visitor will not remain in the parish unless he
develops friendships within the church. As evangelization
experts testify, "without friendships within the congregation,
most new members will not stay." Here we will look at two
proven vehicles for developing these friendships.
The Small Group
The number one personal problem in our modern age is loneliness.
National surveys conducted in recent years indicate that
loneliness is one of the major, fastest growing problems in
North America. Although we generally are living in closer
proximity to one another, we know each other less and less. Most
visitors to parishes are not searching for theological purity,
but for friendships. It is the responsibility of Christ"s
Church to try and meet this need by providing opportunities for
Christian friendships to develop. Thom Rainer, Dean of the Billy
Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, writes
of this crucial necessity:
In the early church, people caring for one another, eating in
each other"s homes, and giving out of love was the norm. Today
city-dwellers do not know even the names of the family living
three houses down the street.
Historically, one of the most effective ways to counter
loneliness and develop friendships in the parish is through
small group studies. These studies usually meet weekly and
feature "a combination of Bible study, prayer, and personal
sharing." For a Byzantine Catholic community, the structure
can be tailored to incorporate liturgical prayer and patristics.
These small groups are an excellent way to incorporate potential
members into the parish. Very often a person becomes heavily
involved in a small group long before officially joining the
Today, there is a serious spiritual thirst. Many adults are
longing for in-depth, substantive spiritual learning. It is
impossible to fulfill this need solely through Sunday morning
homilies. One of the main reasons that Catholics join
evangelical Protestant congregations is to study the scriptures.
As well as facilitating friendships, a small group can also
serve as a valuable tool for adult religious education. And
usually from these small groups, parish leaders will emerge who
will take positions of responsibility, easing the burden of the
The Inquirers Class
One variation on the small group is the inquirers class, a small
group study for those interested in joining the Church. Roman
Catholic parishes have had tremendous success with this concept,
which they refer to as the Rite of Christian Initiation of
Adults (RCIA). As a result of RCIA classes, thousands of
converts join the Roman Catholic Church every Easter Vigil. In
the RCIA program, each new member is assigned a sponsor who acts
as his or her guide in exploring the faith. This program has
borne great fruit.
Every parish should offer an annual inquirers class. Even
parishes that seem to have little growth should make the class
available, demonstrating an expectancy of new members. To quote
a recent adage, "if you build it, they will come." Some parishes
expect no growth, and believe planning for such a class to be an
unnecessary expenditure of time. Bast frowns upon this negative
It is ideal to plan and announce a year"s schedule of new member
classes. Unfortunately, many congregations hold new member
classes only when enough potential participants can be
identified to warrant scheduling. This passive approach is
"reactive" rather than "active" and may be characteristic in
other areas of church life, which then becomes a
"self-fulfilling" prophecy. The result of a planned and
publicized schedule is a sense of expectancy" "we are going to
receive new members."
A successful inquirers class places no pressure on the
prospective members. No commitment is asked for until the end. I
propose that the RCIA program developed by the Roman Church
could serve as a valuable model in developing an authentically
Byzantine class. The RCIA process is based on the initiation of
Christians conducted by the early Church, and prepares the
convert for reception of the Christian Mysteries. It has proven
to be one of the brightest spots in the Roman Church today, and
could also be a source of growth for the Byzantine Catholic
Needed: Parishes with Vision
The plan of evangelization outlined in this guide is by no means
the final word on the subject. There are many other approaches
that can also bear fruit. However, I believe that I have
presented a very practical plan of action that almost any parish
This guide was not written for my pleasure, or the pleasure of
any reader. Rather, it is to be put into practice. It is very
easy to bewail the problems in our Church. But it is much harder
to take the necessary actions to make a difference. Today, the
Eastern Orthodox Church is growing at an astounding rate. The
Roman Catholic Church is flourishing, winning thousands of new
converts daily in Africa and Asia. And yet there are still
millions of people who have not heard the Gospel, right here in
North America. Will we sit by and quietly watch our Byzantine
Catholic Church die" Or will we take the actions necessary to
spread the Good News to the unchurched, and in the process usher
Byzantine Catholicism into a whole new era of growth and
prosperity" The choice lies with you.
Barna,George. Marketing the Church. Colorado Springs, CO:
Bast, Robert. Attracting New Members. Monrovia, CA: Church
Growth Press, 1990.
Gillquist, Peter. Becoming Orthodox. Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar
Martin, Ralph, ed. Pope John Paul II and the New Evangelization.
San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995.
Matthews-Green, Frederica. Facing East. San Francisco:
Rainer, Thom. The Book of Church Growth. Nashville: Broadman &
 Vinson Synan, "Which Churches are Growing and Why"" in Pope
John Paul II and the New Evangelization (San Francisco:
Ignatius, 1995), 111-121.
 Robert Bast, Attracting New Members (Monrovia, CA: Church
Growth Press, 1990), 52.
 Peter Barna, Marketing the Church (Colorado Springs, CO:
Navpress, 1990), 17.
 Barna, 157.
 Barna, 36.
 Synan, 121.
 Matthew 28:18-20, ASV.
 Joseph Tawil, Courage to Be Ourselves, (Internet:
 Synan, 111.
 Bast, 11.
 Bast, 12.
 Bast, 93.
 Bast, 13.
 Peter Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox (Ben Lomond, CA:
Conciliar Press, 1992), 183.
 Gillquist, 176.
 Bast, 21.
 Bast, 63.
 Bast, 64.
 Bast, 130-131.
 Bast, 66.
 Bast, 62.
 Bast, 88.
 Bast, 16.
 Barna, 129.
 Bast, 46.
 Bast, 46-47.
 Bast, 47.
 Bast, 48-49.
 Frederica Matthews-Green, Facing East (San Francisco:
HarperCollins, 1997), 156-158.
 Mathewes-Green, 156-158.
 Bast, 136.
 Barna, 51.
 Bast, 94-95.
 Thom Rainer, The Book of Church Growth (Nashville: Broadman
& Holman, 1993), 296.
 Barna, 112.
 Rainer, 294.
 Bast, 73.
 Bast, 142.