The latest news from Faith Communities Today - new research findings from over 4400 American congregations.
March 16, 2016

A Glimpse at U.S. Orthodox Congregations

Alexei Krindatch

With about 1,900 parishes (i.e. local congregations) and 820,000 adherents nationwide the American Orthodox Christian Churches comprise a relatively small faith tradition within the US religious scene. Yet, they occupy a unique and rather distinct ʺnicheʺ in America's diverse religious landscape. Orthodox Christian theology, church governance, demographics and the socio-economic profile of members, as well as many aspects at the local, parish-level, church life distinguish Orthodox Churches from both Roman Catholic and various Protestant Churches.

The US Orthodox Christian Churches (represented currently by the "Assembly of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America") have been partners in the Faith Communities Today research network from its very inception.  Since 2000, the Orthodox Churches have participated in all major Faith Communities Today studies and surveys.   580 Orthodox Christian parishes (or roughly 30% of all US Orthodox parishes) took part in the most recent 2015 survey.

In their geographic setting, Orthodox parishes are much more ʺurbanʺ and ʺsuburban" compared to Roman Catholic parishes and Protestant congregations.ʺ A majority of Orthodox parishes (59%) are situated either in or around cities with population of more than 50,000.

In terms of the demographic composition of church members, Orthodox Christian parishes are significantly ʺyoungerʺ than Roman Catholic parishes and Oldline Protestant congregations. And they are slightly younger than Evangelical/Black Protestant churches.  However, overall comparisons with the entire survey show only slight age differences with the Orthodox regular participants.

The worship in Orthodox Churches can be described as ʺliturgical worship.ʺ That is, unlike most Protestant denominations, both Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic Churches have more ʺformalizedʺ (i.e. following certain established rules and traditions) worship services. Both the Orthodox Liturgy and Catholic Mass (the main worship ritual in these churches) allow for less ʺexperimentationʺ or have fewer ʺoptions to choose fromʺ than the Sunday worship services in Protestant Churches.  Compared to both Oldline and Evangelical/Black congregations, the lives of Orthodox parishes are more ʺworship centered,ʺmeaning Orthodox parishes engage less with their membership in various programs and activities outside of worship than do other traditions.

Not surprisingly, Orthodox parishes have a more distinctive ʺpersonal identityʺ than Protestant congregations.  Many more Orthodox parishes than other surveyed congregations agreed with the statement ʺOur parish/congregation is quite different from other congregations in our community.ʺ At the same time, compared to both Roman Catholic churches and Protestant congregations, fewer Orthodox parishes feel that they ʺhave clear mission and purpose,ʺ are ʺspiritually vital and aliveʺ and are ʺwilling to change to meet new challenges.ʺ

Somewhat surprising, several items in the survey indicated that US Orthodox Christian parishes are more proficient and frequent users of Internet and various social media than either Oldline or Evangelical/Black Protestant congregations. When clergy were asked about their personal opinions (i.e. positive or negative) about the use of Internet and social media in parish/congregation life, 66% Orthodox priests said that ʺin today's world, parishes must use modern communication technologies as widely and as well as possible."

So based on the survey results, while some aspects of Orthodoxy in the US may not be changing, it is clear that Orthodox congregations are taking advantage of a distinctive identity and Internet communication tools to publicize what they have to offer to a young audience.

Read more about this initial report on Orthodox Churches.
At this site one can also find nearly two decades of research on Orthodox congregations.
Also the author of this research, Alexei Krindatch, just released a new book on Orthodox Monasteries in the United States - Check it out!  
Our continuing series on growth & vitality:

Innovation in Worship

Last month we discussed the importance of getting members involved in bringing others into the congregation. Yet it isn't always clear how to motivate these evangelistic efforts.  One method is to stimulate your membership in worship and get them talking about your service.  We often think that contemporary forms of worship (like with projection screens and guitars) do the trick, but both our 2010 and 2015 surveys found that any form of innovation in worship has a strong correlation to growth and vitality. 2010 data is shown here, with 2015 data below.  
The trick is to try different things; to change from the staid and settled approach.   Not everyone may be happy but at least you will have created some buzz... the trick is to avoid being stung.  

The bottom line is - innovate!

Coming later this month a bonus newsletter issue will focus on the soon to be released Young Adult Report with brief summary of its findings.
Faith Communities Today material in the news.
  • In Ethics Daily, "Thriving and surviving were two contrasting trends experienced by U.S. congregations in 2015, a Hartford Institute for Religion Research survey found." 
  • In the GetReligion blog - "Briggs substantiates such gloom via two grassroots surveys, the 2015 report from the Hartford Institute's Faith Communities Today project ..."
  • Dave Roozen did an extensive recorded interview and Q&A with George Bullard of FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community Dialogue with David Roozen, February 18, 2016     
  •  Cynthia Woolever discussed the recent Faith Communities Today survey findings in the March 2016 issue of the publication The Parish Paper. (subscription only)

Other News and Resources:

We are all very grateful to Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion for giving a favorite newsletter of ours Religion Watch a new home and institutional support.  It is a wonderful resource. 

The National Council of Churches has begun a new Podcast series in 2016. Every week, Rev. Steven D. Martin interviews faith leaders, activists, and people from across the NCC's 38 member communions and affiliated organizations.

See what's happening on our Facebook page: