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Calculating Our Vital Signs
By Ken Stevens

"For I know the plans that I have for you...plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." -- Jeremiah 29:11

Nearly forty St. Luke parishioners recently completed a parish survey as part of OCA's Natural Church Development (NCD) initiative. This is an essential preparatory step for formulating our next St. Luke Strategic Plan, which is scheduled for completion mid-2007. Parish Council appreciates your 1st step contribution in the process. Without the "meat," we could not create a suitable plan - one which must be tailored to the individual needs of our St. Luke's parish. Surveying the parish at large enables us to evaluate and to know -- quantitatively and qualitatively -- where the parish is right now.

Natural Church Development is a way of measuring the health or quality of our church. By utilizing this carefully prepared questionnaire with all of you, the survey is the 1st step in determining the health or our church, with a focus on eight critical areas. These are essentially quality characteristics and universally used in building healthy churches; namely,

  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-oriented Ministry
  • Passionate Spirituality
  • Functional Structures
  • Inspiring Worship Services
  • Holistic Small Groups
  • Need-oriented Evangelism
  • Loving Relationships

    All eight characteristics are vitally important to healthy growing churches. But since all eight areas can't be worked on with the same amount of energy and concentration, we must ultimately find those areas which will yield the greatest long-range return on our personal investments at St. Luke's.

    Once we have a pulse on that requisite knowledge base, the 2nd step will concentrate on where we are going by formulating a "vision," a godly picture of a desired future. Vision is based on corporate parish values, and a picture of a glorious future that comes from God and motivates the faithful. The Parish and Pastorate must work together on this; the priest is the primary vision caster in parish life.

    The 3rd step involves a determination of our mission - i.e. defining our own ministry target group, the needs of that group, and how we are going to reach them (e.g. strategies, plans, programs, activities). Ultimately, we must connect and assimilate. Connecting and assimilating existing and new members in the parish can be delicate work, but requisite for church growth, and involves concentration in a number of primary areas of church development; specifically, holistic small groups, Orthodox spirituality, and inspiring worship.

    The NCD process assists us in developing relevant goals and a plan to see the health of our church increase. So the first step -- diagnosing the health of our church by taking the survey - is now complete. Next, we will receive an in-depth analysis of the survey, which will conclude by identifying key issues/needs that should be addressed. Following this, a strategic plan will be developed to address these very issues. Finally, the strategic plan must be implemented; and that requires staying focused on carrying out the plan and overcoming obstacles along with way.

    A number of other OCA churches across the country have already begun to utilize the NCD methodology with an effort towards church growth. Since the program, under the direction of Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff (St. John the Theologian, Shirley, NY), is relatively new, those who have participated are beginning to share experiences with the NCD process to find ways in which they can apply this method as effectively as possible in moving their respective parishes forward. In fact, ongoing cross-parish discussions have been held to capture a list of common issues and lessons learned, with a view towards helping parishes discern where they should focus in order to build/increase vibrancy.

    St. Luke is, and always has been a vigorous parish. God willing, we will never digress from our passionate focus on growth, as long as it is God-directed. Dying churches reek of despair, hopelessness and frustration - depressing places to be in, let alone minister in. We need to constantly refresh our mindset, with a realization that God loves us, God cares about us, and God wants our parish to grow. Facing the future together requires a well thought-out, tailored plan that we are confident the Lord has in store for St. Luke's.

    "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord our God is with you wherever you go." -- Joshua 1:9