Steven Christoforou at Y2AM Studio at the Archdiocese.
It all started with a cell phone.
I joined the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in June of 2013. Our task was clear yet daunting: how could we rethink and reimagine ministry for young people in a way that was both more effective and more Christ-centered? We all know why the stakes are so high. Every parishioner in the Orthodox Church knows that, over the past few decades, we’ve had increasing difficulty connecting with young people.
Research shows that as many as 60% of American Christians disconnect from faith as they transition from youth into young adulthood. And, though we don’t have any precise numbers for the Orthodox Church, there’s very good reason to believe our disconnection may be even more severe. In my own life, for example, about 90% of the young people I grew up with have fallen away from the Church.
These are daunting, and potentially demoralizing, numbers. Yet, as we considered what to do in the summer of 2013, these statistics became our greatest inspiration.
We reimagined the youth office and created Y2AM, a newly invigorated team with a renewed sense of ministry vision and purpose. And we put our new direction to the test as we launched our first project: “Be the Bee.” We filmed our first 40 episodes in a laughably crude way. I would open a script as a Word document and, with that on my laptop screen, scotch tape my iPhone to my old MacBook. That sounds ridiculous, but my iPhone actually had a significantly better camera. And we certainly couldn’t afford anything like a real camera, let alone a teleprompter.
Despite the crude production process, “Be the Bee” instantly made a big impact around the world. Feedback poured in from young adults who energized about the Church as never before, and from parents who were amazed that their children wanted to watch our videos and then pray as a family and attend Church services. We even heard from people who converted to the Orthodox Church because of the clear and compelling message in every episode of “Be the Bee.”
The Archdiocese eventually got us a new camera, which helped give “Be the Bee” more of a professional look. And, even more significantly, Leadership 100 decided to invest in the future of our program by funding our second season of “Be the Bee” retreats (BeeTreats). It allowed us to create a valuable and transformative ministry experience, not just for youth but for parents and youth workers and other adults as well. It allowed us to spend a full day with Orthodox Christians: praying together, learning together, growing in faith together.
“Be the Bee” ended with 133 episodes and was a fixture in homes and parishes around the Church. One Metropolis reported that 70% of its parishes used “Be the Bee” in their Sunday School programs. Summer camps from multiple Orthodox jurisdictions revealed that “Be the Bee” was an important part of their curriculum.
We even heard from a young man in South Africa who, with his parish priest, organized a weekly study group so people could watch “Be the Bee” together and deepen their faith.
Even as the series ended, we continued to reach multiple generations of Christians in face-to-face, prayerful, and transformative ministry experiences because of Leadership 100’s generous decision to continue funding our BeeTreats.
As we prepared to launch a new series, Leadership 100 again opened doors for us. A generous grant allowed us to build an in-house studio at the Archdiocese, complete with a sophisticated 4K camera. This setup became the backbone of “Live the Word,” a weekly video series explaining the Sunday Gospel and Epistle readings.
We recently ended this series, having produced 73 episodes in all. Parish priests used it to prepare sermons. Parents told us how amazed they were to see their kids actually read the Bible on their own. Young adults told us that their lives developed a deeper sense of purpose as they began to understand themselves in light of the Scripture and God’s unfolding story of salvation.
And yes, that young man from South Africa has been using “Live the Word” in his weekly fellowship meetings, as have families and parishes from Virginia Beach to Venice Beach.
As we look ahead, we’re excited about the doors that Leadership 100 continues to open for us. We’re currently working on an innovative new ministry course, which we hope will change the way Orthodox Christians form new generations of Christians. Apart from the online component, we hope to use Leadership 100’s generous funding to organize a conference to really help people dig into the difficult questions of ministry and how best to inspire young Christians.
In the fall, we’re going to turn our attention to completing a cutting-edge video Introduction to Orthodox Christianity. With the support of Leadership 100, this series will be our most impressive yet; we’re going to retain a leading animation studio to help us create an engaging and dynamic series unlike anything we’ve ever produced.
And, along the way, we’re going to continue leading BeeTreats across the Archdiocese: meeting people face-to-face, praying with them, helping lead life-changing (and life-giving) ministry for multiple generations of Orthodox Christians.
As a young adult myself, someone who knows and loves far too many people who have fallen away from the Church over the years, I’m grateful to Leadership 100 for taking the big dreams of Y2AM seriously.
Five years ago, we thought we could nourish the faith of young people with a cell phone and a simple challenge: to be the bee and find God in everything, every day. Leadership 100 saw the potential in our call and has helped us energize and revitalize the faith of tens of thousands of people around the world.
Glory to God for all things.
Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM. A graduate of Yale University, Fordham University School of Law, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Steve is passionate about sharing the Gospel in a clear and accessible way and helping people see Christ at work in their lives.