Reclaiming the Mission Mindset
Mission communities help to broaden the Church’s footprint in under-served areas. They bring numerical growth. Yet there is more for both the mission – and parishes that support them.
The Qualities of Mission Life
Missions Have Characteristics Necessary for Parishes Newly planted mission communities bring with them a missionary zeal. They need to build awareness and express an identity as Christians that will attract new members and friends. They need to grow or they will die. They must be welcoming and engaging to visitors and guests. They must invite. They never have enough money — so they aren’t afraid to ask for commitments. There are no liturgical furnishings – so parishioners become carpenters.
Often the priest is working – and laity learn to take responsibility. In the community’s formative years everything is new – and every decision requires them to review and discuss their mission, vision and values. As a result these values become ingrained – and the community learns to make Christ-centric decisions. A communal toughness yields a can-do attitude. When members of the mission community move elsewhere they bring the missionary spirit to their newly found parish.
In short, struggling – with a hopeful spirit – seems to make mission communities both numerically and spiritually stronger.
Many of the Strongest Parishes Began as Missions
Surely these qualities of outreach and effort can erode as time passes. Yet this helps to explain why in the Midwest Diocese many of the strongest, most vibrant, ministry centric, growing parishes began as mission communities.
Impact on the Planting Community
While the important fruit of a planting effort is the raising up of a new community where none existed, the planting community benefits as well. The planting parish is encouraged to look outside itself to the needs of others. Long forgotten (or never known) growth-oriented values are rekindled. Seeing the struggle and single minded effort of the spawned community strengthens the ‘parent’.
As time goes on – and parish life becomes safer, established parishes need to remind themselves of the value and importance of organically subdividing and creating new Orthodox communities. Often existing churches become risk averse and it becomes a lot harder to think about sharing some of their resources or people for birthing new Orthodox communities.
The challenges for mission communities are significant. Nonetheless established parishes can learn from the experiences of smaller new ones. And as a result all communities can become stronger.