Boot Camp: The Way to Go
By Pearl Homiak
At St. Luke Orthodox Church, we have a vision. We also have a mission
statement and many ministry activities. However, concerning church growth, are we where we
need to be? To find out, Sue Lisowski, Evangelism Team Leader, and I attended the OCA
Church Growth Boot Camp held at St. Vladimir's Seminary in June. Boot Camp lasted three
wonderful days, and all of us who attended grew deeper in understanding as we acquired new
knowledge. It was exciting and encouraging to be with other Orthodox people from so many
different parishes. All of these men and women take church growth seriously and wanted to
know what to do to make it happen. Sue and I knew that St. Luke's was on the right path in
this regard, but we soon discovered that our parish needed to make some helpful
Father John Reeves, OCA Church Growth Director, opened Boot Camp by
calling our attention to the "Vision Tree" on the first page of our workbooks [provided
by Church Multiplication Training Center (CMTC), Ft. Wayne, Indiana, © 2000, and compiled
for Orthodox Christians]. Each part of the Vision Tree stood for a particular part of the
church growth process:
Soil -----------Scriptural Foundation
Roots ---------Core Values
Trunk ---------Mission Statement
Branches ----Essential Ministry Activities
Leaves --------Goals and Objectives
Fruits ---------Results of Ministries
(Yes, you really can have fun working for church growth).
As Fr. John explained, we all have the same Soil. However, the Roots,
Trunk, Branches, and Leaves are unique to each parish. The Fruits depend on how each
parish determines, treats, strategically plans for, and implements the other parts of the
tree, while the Swing reminds us to enjoy our efforts.
Growing a parish involves more than just the Trunk, i.e., having a
mission statement, we quickly learned. A mission statement can be very empty if proper
groundwork hasn't previously been done. As Fr. John pointed out, "A mission statement
means nothing unless we have the behavior to back it up." Further, he specified that our
behavior, as a parish, indicates what our core values are. (This does not refer to the
ethnic group(s) to which we belong). "A person's day planner and checkbook show [how that
person really behaves and] what that person really values," Fr. John edified. It is the
same for each parish. Our parish behavior is "the most accurate indicator of [our parish
core] values…how do we spend our time, and how do we spend our money"?
"Core values are consistent, zeal evoking and distinctive, convictions
that determine our priorities, drive our ministry and are demonstrated by our behavior."
(CMTC Orthodox workbook, p. 3) In short, our core values tell everyone outside our church
family who we are as a parish. Fr. John cautioned that if we don't accurately identify our
core values, our strategic planning will be unsatisfying. Also, failure to specify core
values creates misunderstandings among parishioners and, ultimately, conflict.
To help us better understand the concepts of behavior and core values,
we did a small-group exercise using Acts 2:42-45. This passage shows how these concepts
were demonstrated in the early church. It was enlightening to read and work with these
verses. In general, this passage provided an unmistakable contrast to how our own
parishes behave today. In particular, it became evident to us how much Orthodox-Christian
behavior and core values changed during the 20th century. Next, we were asked to identify
what we thought the core values of our own parish were at present. Following this, we
moved on to developing a vision.
The concept of vision is connected to core values. Fr. Jonathan
Ivanoff of St. John the Theologian Orthodox Church in Shirley, Long Island, New York,
explained this. Fr. Jonathan stated that vision involves clarity. "Vision develops
positive mental images and pictures that motivate people," and "vision comes from God."
(OCTC Orthodox workbook, p. 7) "First," Fr. Jonathan pointed out, "we must ask what we
want our parish to look like two to three years from now." Then, we need to ask God for
His guidance as we patiently listen to each other.
Fr.Jonathan stated that prayer is extremely important as we determine
our parish's vision. This is because God already has a vision and a calling for each and
every parish. So, if we want our parish to grow, we'd best find out what God wants us to
do, or what we do won't work. A Godly vision "requires risk-taking," but His vision also
"promotes faith rather than fear," and "glorifies God not people."
(OCTC Orthodox workbook, p. 8) An exercise also followed this session. We brainstormed and
listed several statements that specifically describe what our church would look like in a
few years if the OCTC Orthodox, church-growth process were implemented. This prepared us
for the next step, developing the mission statement.
Fr. Deacon Michael Myers of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Fort Wayne,
Indiana, described the mission-statement process. "A clear mission statement answers three
1. Who is your ministry focus group?
2. What needs are you seeking to meet?
3. How will you accomplish your mission. Note: Don't confuse mission
with vision. Vision describes a desired future; mission defines the overall strategy to
get there." (OCTC Orthodox workbook, p. 10)
Deacon Michael explained that successful church growth depends on
targeting a specific focus group of people, towards which we want to place our main
efforts. It is asking, "Who is God calling us to minister to"? (Focusing on only one group
of people does not mean everyone else is excluded. It is simply, realistically impossible
to be all things to all people all at once). Again, prayer is involved here. Prayerfully,
we must look at the focus group and decide what its needs are. Then, we can plan our
missionary endeavors but with the focus group always in mind.
The mission statement we ultimately select must be very clear. It must
first state who we are, then what group we are focusing on, and finally how we intend to
meet this group's needs (not our own needs). Creating the mission statement involves
several steps, such as selecting specific words that "describe what makes [our] church
unique." (OCTC Orthodox workbook, p. 12) Then we need to evaluate the proposed mission
statement by questioning it. For example, my mission statement could be something like
this: "Pearl Homiak, editor of "The Evangelist," St. Luke's parish and outreach
newsletter, is obligated to fulfill the information needs of our readers by providing
articles, drawings and pictures that describe church-related activities and events."
(Not perfect, but it's a start). Some of the unique words in this statement are "editor,"
"obligated," and "providing." To make sure my mission statement does what it is supposed
to do, I evaluate it. Does it tell who I am, what group I am focusing on, and how I am
fulfilling my focus group's needs? Moreover, does it have "staying power"? As in my
mission statement, the clarity of our parish mission statement is very important, because
it will drive everything else we do to grow our parish.
An especially thought-provoking speaker at Boot Camp was Dr. Tom Clegg,
Vice President of Church Resource Ministries, at the Church Multiplication Training
Center. He has written an important book called Lost in America. As he spoke, he stated
some very revealing facts. "North America is the only continent in which Christianity is
not growing." Also, "the percentage of adults in the U.S. who attend church is
For our churches to grow, Dr. Clegg indicated that a prayer team is
absolutely necessary. I Timothy 2:1 states: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests,
prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone." Dr. Clegg agreed. "Parishes
that don't pray for growth won't grow," he stated. As our own St. Innocent of Alaska wrote
in 1853 "the first and most efficient preparation is prayer, which alone can open the
spring of highest teaching and bring down a blessing upon every good beginning and work.
Therefore always, and especially before addressing those whom thou wishest to illumine
with the light of truth, turn towards God in ardent prayer." (Alaskan Missionary
Spirituality, p. 238; CMTC workbook, p. 17) Dr. Clegg confirmed this. "We need to be
constantly praying for the growth of the church," he emphasized. Again, we must pray to
God for guidance and direction and "to send us people as missionaries and as converts."
Dr Clegg shared with us, as a true illustration, that 400 people were
praying for our Boot Camp. (He had asked 20 people to pray for him at Boot Camp and 20
people to pray for the first praying 20). When I heard this, I was strangely not
surprised. Since the beginning of Boot Camp, I had sensed a brightness and peace I still
can't describe. In all of our brainstorming and discussions, Boot Camp participants
disagreed on certain things as individuals, but we gladly worked together toward common
The other Vision-Tree topics (Branches, Leaves, and Fruits) were also
discussed during Boot Camp. In addition, we also learned about developing a "missionary
mindset," the results of a shared vision, how to plan to implement this church growth
process, and how to improve people's first impressions of our church and parish. Frs.
Reeves and Ivanoff, Deacon Myers, and Dr. Clegg again facilitated discussions on these
ideas and engaged us in hands-on and other group activities.
I was very impressed with Boot Camp, as were the other participants.
Fr. Joseph Wargo, pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Lyndora, Pennsylvania,
declared, "I'm glad I came. Boot Camp gave me more than I expected. It was organized, in
depth, and gave us a good foundation to work from." Fr. Joseph especially liked working
on the clarifying flow charts involving church-growth ministries and other activities."
Fr. Jason Kappanadze, pastor of Holy Trinity Church, Elmira Heights,
New York, who also produces the Everyday tapes, was also at Boot Camp. He felt that Boot
Camp was "one of the best things the OCA is doing" and "extremely necessary." He
correctly perceived that the sessions were "well thought out and presented with
understanding." He maintained that Boot Camp "goes beneath the surface and gets to
things that need changing. It is candid, honest, and not a 'gloss'." Fr. Jason really
enjoyed being with the gathering of motivated Orthodox Christians from so many different
parishes. "This is like the yeast that can go out and leaven the whole lump," he
The materials used in Boot Camp were very professionally compiled. The
Christian Ministries Training Center (CMTC) originally formulated the Boot Camp process.
They now adapt it for denominations that then use it for their congregations. I asked Dr.
Clegg what he thought when he first encountered church-growth-minded Orthodox Christians
at the 1999 Church Growth Conference held in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, which was sponsored
by the Antiochian Archdiocese. He said he was "surprised that the Orthodox wanted to do
this." He indicated that he was "delighted and intrigued" with the Orthodox Christians
that were at the conference. He said he observed a "higher bias for change, for growth"
among them than he had seen in some other church groups. "It appears," Dr. Clegg
continued, "that [Orthodox Christians] have a greater receptivity for the process." In
about a year, he noted, CMTC plans to examine the effectiveness of their church growth
process, Orthodox style, among our parishes to see how it is progressing.
In his closing remarks, Fr. John Reeves reminded us that we "must open
our eyes to the future before us in English-speaking lands and see ourselves as
missionaries." When Jesus Christ lived on Earth, He told His disciples, "Go into all the
world and preach the gospel to every creature," (Mark 16:15) and "make disciples of all
the nations." (Matt 28:19) However, He means for us to do this today, too. When He said,
"Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest" (John
4:35), Christ means for us to see this in the present, too. And when Jesus promised, "Lo,
I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20), He means for us who
evangelize and do missionary work now to be encouraged by this, too.
Church growth can happen in any Orthodox parish, but it is up to the
priest and parishioners of each parish to work together to make it happen. As Fr. John
clarified, "Boot Camp does not provide answers. It only provides the beginning of a tool
kit for us to provide our own answers." If Boot Camp is just the beginning, I can hardly
wait on the Swing for the rest of the process to continue. The next church-growth event
for 2001 is the Antiochian Archdiocese's Church Growth Conference. This is again being
held in Ligonier, PA, from August 31st to September 3rd (Labor Day weekend). Make the
commitment to attend this valuable and inspiring gathering this year. (See Fr. Andrew or
Lee Kopulos for details). We Boot Campers hope to see you there!