OCA Membership Numbers: Would a Name Change Help?

“The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will give” (Isaiah 62:2).

Churches – both individual congregations and entire denominations – from time to time are faced with shrinking memberships.  There are all kinds of ideas about how to reverse declining numbers, but one novel one is simply to try changing the congregation/denomination’s name.  The 8 June 2008 edition of  The Washington Post, “Shrinking Flock Examines Its Identity”   examines exactly the idea of a name change as a step toward reversing membership loss.   “Even the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group in the country, whose 16 million membership has declined in recent years, has hosted church-naming seminars asking the question, ‘To Baptist or Not to Baptist?'”   And apparently a national survey shows that a number of churches are trying the name change “in an attempt to fill pews.”   

I can’t help but offer the sardonic comment, “gee, I wonder if the OCA has considered a name change? Maybe that would help solve its problems.”    And those who follow the scandal closely might remember the brief moment in which “Syosset” suddenly was using Oyster Bay Cove as its city locale.   So maybe the idea is not so far-fetched.   

Even if you white wash a tomb, it is still filled with dead bones says Jesus. 

The old mantra at Syosset as the solution for every crisis used to be “increase the assessment.”  It never solved the problem of scandal or declining membership, but some must have benefitted from this for they kept offering this “solution” year after year.  The assessment climbed and the membership numbers shrank.  Well, that should at least have translated into more money to serve each continuing member for ministry, right?    That doesn’t seem to have happened but the OCA did employ an ever increasing number of people who were involved in the fund raising arm of the central administration even as membership numbers plummeted.  Fortunately (what an appropriate word in this case!), the scandal did reveal the fallacy in this logic.

Looking for simple solutions to declining church memberships is always tempting.  Change, and true in-depth soul searching and reflection are such hard work and often so unpleasant.  Sometimes they reveal that “we” are the problem and that means we will have to change ourselves. 

Roger Oldham, vice president of convention relations for the Southern Baptist Convention commented, “One hundred years ago, when people moved to a new area, they were looking for the name brand they were accustomed to. Now, people are looking for genuineness and transparency. Not a particular label.”

Genuineness and transparency.   Hmmmm.  I wonder if the metropolitan and the Synod of Bishops have ever considered that as a way out of the scandal and a way to address the OCA’s declining membership? 

2 thoughts on “OCA Membership Numbers: Would a Name Change Help?

    1. Fr. Ted

      There are so many different methods used to calculate members, active or inactive. The OCA has about 25,000 assessment paying members – this doesn’t include Alaska, Canada, the “ethnic” dioceses, or children under 18. Seems like the Metropolitan has been using the 100,000 number. There are supposedly 650 OCA parishes so you can multiply the number of parishes by whatever you think is the average number of members per parish. 100/parish = 65,000. 150/parish = 97,500. I’ve seen a couple of demographic studies that offer anywhere from 40-100,000. I think the 2008 Pew Research on religion in America said the total number of Orthodox Christians in America (including Ethiopians, Egyptian and every brand of Orthodox) was 1.6 million. So the OCA is some small portion of that.

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