How do we get the whole parish to be involved in the RCIA? That is a burning question for many parishes. If I had an easy answer, I promise I would have given it to you by now, and everything would be solved. However, just because there is no easy answer does not mean there is no answer.
The answer has several parts and it will take several years to accomplish. And the first step is the most difficult.
Step 1: Stop thinking of our ministry as “RCIA”
The ministry of every baptized person is discipleship. The reason we became initiation ministers is to make more disciples. The reason our parish exists is to make more disciples. The reason priests and deacons get ordained is to make more disciples. The reason we build Catholic schools is to make more disciples.
So our ministry is not “RCIA.” Our ministry is making disciples.
Step 2: Stop letting our religious education get in the way of making disciples
I’m going a bit out on a limb here to make a point, so bear with me. It is the case for many of us that we learned a whole lot of Catholic doctrine growing up. For you and me, that doctrinal education was somehow integrated into a lifestyle. We saw the connections between what we learned in school and how we were supposed to live our lives. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here doing this ministry.
But for tens of millions of people in the United States alone, that doctrinal teaching did not get integrated into a lifestyle. The Pew Forum reports that 33 million Americans claim no religious affiliation. 24% of those folks are ex-Catholics! Somehow almost 8 million people got educated in the faith and are not living the faith. And that doesn’t even account for the “Sunday only” and “Christmas and Easter only” Catholics.
So here is what I mean by not letting our religious education get in the way. When we set out to “do RCIA,” we very often base what we do on how we came to know and live the faith. In other words, we attempt to duplicate the religious education system that got us here. That’s understandable. The system worked for us.
But traditional religious education didn’t work for millions and millions of ex-Catholics. We have to ask ourselves why not. We have to become more focused on conversion of hearts. We have to stop sending our catechumens to school and start sending them on mission.
Step 3: Realize that friends don’t let friends make scholars
This step is the one that is going to take the most time and the most patience. I know that most of you who read this blog have already broken out of the school-room model, and you are making great progress in focusing your initiation ministry on making disciples. Good for you! But now you have to go share the good news with the rest of the catechetical ministers in your parish.
And, often, your message will not sound like good news—not at first. But think of it this way. You know how discouraged you get when a neophyte disappears after Easter, right? Even if you have a dozen on-fire, super-involved neophytes who become fully committed to the mission and you have only one who didn’t come back, it’s that one that bugs you and makes you wonder what else you could have done, right?
So think about how the first Communion catechist feels when half—or more!—of the first Communion families disappear every year. And how is the youth minister handling the loss of the majority of his newly-confirmed teens every year? How is the marriage prep team able to keep going every year when most of the newly married couples do not come back and half of them actually get divorced?
If you could find a gentle, non-threatening way to offer a new model, a discipleship model, that would begin to cause the kind of deep conversion you’ve seen in the catechumenate process, don’t you think that would soon start to sound like good news to your brother and sister catechists?
So what do we do next?
I’m going to write more about this third step in a future post. However, if you’d like to know more about the first two steps, leave a question in the comments section. Or if you have suggestions to add to these, please let us know about them in the comments.
4 thoughts on “Is it really possible to involve the whole parish in RCIA?”
This would be so helpful because we have tried more than once to invite ministry leaders to mingle/talk with our inquirers, neophytes, etc., with very little success. We did hit a bonanza last Easter when three of our neophytes/newly received and two of their wives began a brand new ministry of their own, which they call “Between Heaven and Earth,” a Sunday scripture study based on their experience of the dismissal process, but in a more “educational” mode. It’s been a great success – weekly meetings run entirely by them, with an average of 18 people a week. They even have a Facebook page. But that was a pure gift from above – nothing special we did as a team. We often talk about wanting the parish to be more involved. Tell me more!
Oh, this sounds great! It seems to mesh perfectly with Jerry Gallipeau’s “Apprenticeship” model for the Catechumenate. Most of us learn by “doing”, only natural to carry this out in our RCIA process of initiation by “immersion” so to speak. I want more! This is getting me to brainstorm “experiences” for our new Inquirers.
I love what you are saying, but I often hit resistance in my parish when I talk about non-classroom models of catechesis. I would love an intergenerational approach. But reality is that the classroom model bring in more money when it comes to youth. And because of that, there seems to be more emphasis on faith formation for youth than adults. The other reality is that folks aren’t around over the summer, so a year-round model is tricky. I would love to learn more how to practically make more disciples in this climate of lack of funds and shrinking parishes.
Hi Sandy, Charlene, and Kristine. Thanks for your great comments! You asked for more, and here it is: https://knot.teamrcia.com/2013/07/five-things-every-catholic-parish-must-do-and-how-rcia-matters/
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, be sure to sign up for our webinar on Aug. 8, “RCIA as the Model for All Parish Formation.”