American Orthodox Christianity Series 2: How Orthodoxy is Significant for American Religion

For this post, I hearken back to an earlier one from the first series in which I mentioned one of the studies by Alexei Krindatch.  Krindatch’s report on five interesting facts (which contained a lot more data than simply five data points), included the following observation:

“Further analysis of the data on attendance in various parishes revealed an interesting phenomenon. When the total parish population reaches
around 150, Sunday attendance drops significantly. This may be explained by something known as “Dunbar’s number,” which is a theoretical
cognitive limit of the number of people with whom one can maintain stable and close social relationships. These are the type of relationships
in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. When Dunbar’s number is reached, the
parish may transform in the perception of the laity from a small family-like community to a more amorphous group of not really well known
people. In short, Fig. 3 suggests that the sense of the close-knit community has obvious effect on proportion of parishioners involved regularly
in the life of a parish.”

This is significant, I think, because of the influx of priests into both the OCA and the Antiochian Archdiocese.  We have an increase of missions across North America.  I expect that trend to continue.  If it does, then we will have an increasing number of parishes with a “Dunbar’s number” of 150 members.  If that happens, then Orthodoxy might be seeing the beginning of a trend here toward many more smaller parishes rather than large parishes.  If this happens, and I think it’s starting, then Orthodoxy (at least in the OCA and other jurisdictions with smaller parishes) may offer a counter-point to the mega-church model.  No, our counter-point won’t have the influence of a large mega-church.  You’re most definitely not likely ever to see a presidential candidate publicly answer questions sitting across from an Orthodox priest near the front of the nave, but given enough time, we might prove an interesting counter-point for some sociologists and anthropologists of religion.

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