A Step-By-Step Plan
In order to minister to the “Lost 60%”, we first have to meet them where they are. They are not in church, so parish based ministry may not be the best first step. They are, however, online. They are on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and are constantly Googling to find, just about, everything. Thus, the need exists to develop an online outreach campaign to attract young people back to Orthodoxy. We need to, and are, building out a full digital outreach strategy which includes email campaigns, content development, search engine optimization and social media marketing. We need to tie all these outreach efforts together to thoroughly engage and keep the attention of our “lost” demographic. This outreach needs to be a collaborative effort, together with every Orthodox Organization and individual willing to help, in addition to those that are already tackling parts of this project. Through our research, we have found that there are 3 million Americans on Facebook that identify themselves with the “Eastern Orthodox Church”. We know that there are only about 750,000 Americans that are actively involved in the Orthodox Church and therefore the 2.25 million additional American Orthodox people on Facebook represent the majority of the “lost generations”. This is one of the most relevant developments we have learne.
They are presented with many views of the world and the orthodox view is not portrayed to many. Most forget how to critically think in an orthodox way, or were never taught how. If we are able to provide another viewpoint as they start to analyze the world around them, we have a chance to connect and engage them. We then form a community of young people devoted to asking and answering tough questions. Therefore, involving young people in discussion with respect and transparency, valuing their opinions and current views. For this to happen, we must produce outreach videos in their language, that inspire them to ask more questions and feel safe to learn more. By talking with them in ways they can relate and finding out what they like and dislike, connections will form.
The media content we create as like minded orthodox young people, is only an introduction that, we hope, causes a brief awakening for each viewer. The videos we create, introduce thoughts, ideas, and different current leaders of the church. This media then starts to break down barriers and begins to humanize the church for the “Lost 60%”. That immediate topic starts to inspire more questions and a desire for more resources by the “Lost 60%”. Therefore we need to readily have available other content and writings on those topics and provide it to them. In addition, we must provide a way for young people to start a discussion with lay leaders and clergy to deepen their learning. This can be done in a few ways, like the online Ask a Priest Forum, the YoFather page, and dedicated leaders to answer questions and reply to comments on videos and posts. Some of these resources exists, some need further development, but all need greater reach. We must work together to connect, develop, and expand the reach of these resources online, by making them known to the “lost 60”.
Once young people start to discuss and connect online, they will eventually want to connect in the real world. Orthodox events, missionary opportunities, service projects and worship exist all across the world. Our young people need to be connected with relevant resources when and where they want them. These events, like OCF College Conference, Pan Orthodox BeeTreats and Retreats, Focus North America’s soup kitchens, inspire participants to be better than they were yesterday, and help young people find purpose in their communities. There is a need to develop a centralized site for all orthodox opportunities. At the very minimum, we must develop a network of these opportunities that is easily searchable with an intuitive interface. The google calendars of Orthodox Events that exist are a step in the right direction. Further development is needed to make the information about these event calendars more accessible so that “lost” young people feel invited and included.
Throughout the previous four steps, relationships between fellow brothers and sisters, clergy and laity, organizations and individuals were formed and strengthened. As our clergy and lay leaders minister the way they are trained to, by matching individuals strengths and talents with local and nationwide needs and services, our young people find purpose and meaning in their communities. Involvement breeds purpose and rewards everyone around them. Most of us enjoy being part of something bigger than ourselves. This sense of community and purpose is what millennials are lacking today. Many are starting to awaken to the fact that they need it or miss it. Others will continue to open their eyes each day and we need to be there and be ready when they search “What’s the purpose of Life?” or “Why are we here?” in google.
When we come together as a church and are successful in guiding our lost brothers and sisters through these steps, they will join us and become advocates to “Solve 60 and live Orthodoxy”. They, like most people who went to Orthodox camps as kids, will become the most active, devoted, and inspired individuals in our church. We will collaborate to create music and videos that spread Orthodoxy. We will collaborate to write articles that inspire people. We will collaborate with existing efforts to create more resources and events. We will collaborate to lead discussions that deepen our levels of understanding. Together we will raise the level of discussion, voice new perspectives and test the limits of what we previously thought was sufficient for outreach. Collaboration, online and in the real world, is our best way to strengthen our church. As we build on existing efforts, reach out to others, and inturn they reach out, we create a sustainable working model of outreach and growth.
Starting With Success
Our strength is in our community of young people devoted to connecting each other and our willingness to collaborate as young people. Collaboration is the ultimate goal as it strengthens the Church from the inside out. The young people involved in today’s ministry all have a willingness to work together, from Diocesan Youth and Young Adult Directors to the local OCF chapters and recent graduates. Our outreach program has been a collaborative effort from the start. People from all jurisdictions have worked to make our outreach videos a success. Our first Pan Orthodox video has over 72,000 views, and our second Pan Orthodox video has over 142,000 views. We are building partnerships with Orthodox Organizations, like Orthodox Christian Network (OCN), that help strengthen the existing “Orthodox Network”, and in turn, reach out to our lost brothers and sisters as a united front. We start with communication, move to cooperation, and solidify our bonds with collaboration.
One of the “fullcircle” successes that we, as young people, have achieved is a regional collaboration, blessed by all the hierarchs of the West Coast, to encourage leaders from all jurisdictions to come together, collaborate and host Pan Orthodox Events. These events are a build off of existing events instead of a reinvention or duplication of the existing Orthodox environment. Not only are these events an outreach program in and of themselves, we are also highlighting these events with our media content, bringing the collaboration back to the beginning of the cycle and using it as outreach to help “Solve 60” online. By everyone starting to work together and building on what already exists, collaboration, specifically the act and willingness to work together, brings about a change in the hearts and the minds of young people that will continue to inspire and strengthen them for generations to come.