In late 2008, a group of Antiochian lay leaders and clergy met at the home of Antiochian Chancellor Charles Ajalat to lay out the framework for an evangelism campaign that would introduce the people of Oklahoma City to the Orthodox Christian faith.
Out of this meeting, a plan emerged: to bring the message of Christ and His Church to as many people as possible, first via saturating local media with invitations, then by hosting two days of talks at St. Elijah’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City. Inquirers will hear author Matthew Gallatin and Orthodox Christian Fellowship Executive Director Fr. Kevin Scherer lay out the case for “the original Gospel, Scriptures, Church, and Spirituality."Since the groundbreaking event is being hosted by Conciliar Media Ministries, www.antiochian.org  spoke with CMM CEO John Maddex about the upcoming Oklahoma City outreach.
1. For those not familiar with what your group is doing, tell us about what's happening in Oklahoma City.
This is an unprecedented effort to expose Orthodoxy to every individual in a single market region using a wide array of radio and television ads, billboards, yard signs, a web site, and the power of the pan-Orthodox mobilization of the Orthodox community. The theme is "Discover Original Christianity" and the web site is www.tryorthodoxy.com . Working with Fr. Constantine Nasr at St. Elijah's Antiochian Orthodox Church, Conciliar Media Ministries is coordinating the local campaign with a goal of filling St. Elijah's on June 19 and 20 with inquirers or curiosity seekers to hear Matthew Gallatin and Fr. Kevin Scherer give four talks:
- Discover the Original Gospel
- Discover the Original Scriptures
- Discover the Original Church
- Discover Original Christian Spirituality
It is our hope that enough interest will be generated from these talks to encourage people to sign up for a Discover Original Christianity Mini-Course being held over a four week period following the public event, with these topics:
- Week 1: Overview of Church History
- Week 2: The Church and the Bible
- Week 3: The Church and Tradition
- Week 4: Discovering Original Christianity
Each class in this 4 week course will be repeated 3 times per week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights and hosted by a various local Orthodox parishes.
2. What was the germination process for this outreach? Who planned it, and why Oklahoma City?
This campaign grew out of a two day planning retreat hosted by Charles Ajalat and the Orthodox Vision Foundation and included Fr. Peter Gillquist, Dn. Michael Hyatt, Fr. Kevin Scherer, Fr. Hans Jacobse, Kevin Allen, Charles Ajalat and John Maddex. The purpose of the retreat was to see whether a broader use of modern media tools might move our evangelism and awareness of the Orthodox Church to a higher level. . This vision is the logical extension of what we know to be God’s desire that all men be saved. We would do this by employing an evangelistic strategy that increases both the “brand identity” of the Orthodox Church and brings people to Christ and His Church utilizing multiple tools of mass media simultaneously. The strategy is designed to be tested in phases, with phase one being a media blitz in a selected medium sized market. Oklahoma City was chosen as the first market because of the proven track record of St. Elijah's in effective outreach, as well as the unique and refreshing pan-Orthodox spirit of cooperation that exists in Oklahoma City. If the experiment in Oklahoma City proved fruitful, the strategy provided for expansion of the effort to five additional cities.
3. Has it been difficult to bring together the different jurisdictions in order to facilitate this? How has that been done?
This ground was plowed already in Oklahoma City through the cooperative joint projects that most or all of the 20 Orthodox parishes had already been involved in there. Orthodox Christians meet together regularly, share responsibilities for teaching catechism classes, and look for ways to fellowship together and help each other.
4. A common thread of discussion regarding evangelism is that the Orthodox don't "do evangelism" the way other religious groups, such as evangelical Protestant churches, do. Can you speak to this? Is there a uniquely Orthodox approach that the OKC project is embracing?
This is sadly true in some cases but not at all consistent with our history or theology. If The Church does not "do evangelism" it is not The Church. The Great Commission was not just a nice idea, it was a commandment. Now, our unique message is this: the original version of Christianity as established by Christ and His Apostles still exists. Perhaps you have not heard about it because more modern expressions of Christianity have dominated the American religious landscape. Nevertheless, it is still here and speaks powerfully to our culture today. "Come and See" what it is all about.
5. Who is your target audience in this campaign? What do you say to those who maintain we shouldn't proselytize among Christians of other churches and denominations?
Our target audience is Oklahoma City. I know that will sound too broad to some who want to know about demographics, tastes, habits, and lifestyles. Sometimes, marketing "experts" tell us we are to imagine a specific person we are targeting and give her a name. "Susan is a 35 year old mother of two with a part time job, two cars, active on Facebook, and involved in her local church." For this campaign in Oklahoma City, we are not envisioning Susan. We anticipate our message will strike a chord with people in every age group, every social and economic stratum, the unchurched and every faith background.
6. How have you put together the funding for this?
At this stage, the initial funds are coming from the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Orthodox Vision Foundation. We are seeking additional funds and hopefully from this interview people’s hearts will be moved to give. To see the funding of an outreach campaign like this with pan-Orthodox cooperation and involvement is very encouraging. We need to not just be talking about evangelism, we need to be doing something.
7. How can Antiochian Christians not living in Oklahoma City help and support this effort?
If you have friends or family within 200 miles of Oklahoma City, email them and encourage them to come and bring people with them on June 19-20. Also, if you think a campaign like this would be effective in your community, be thinking of how funds could be raised to make it happen. What we learn in Oklahoma City will be incredibly valuable as we plan campaigns in other cities. The cost for this effort will be about $50,000.
8. Are there projects in other cities planned, after this is completed?
Yes, we have identified other potential cities and, provided we have the funding, we will be pursuing the next phases of the strategy based on what we learn in Oklahoma City. We really don't know what to expect. But we do know that to have that many people in one region hear about Orthodoxy can only be good.