Diana and I recently returned from Australia where I gave a keynote presentation for the Christian Initiation Australia Network (CIAN) National Conference. The topic was New Tools for a New Age. My goal was to describe how to use the tools of social media to enhance the catechumenate process.
As soon as I learned what the topic was, I knew I had a challenge ahead of me. I’ve known for a long time there is a cultural divide between digital natives and digital immigrants.
We’re speaking in a foreign language
The term “digital native” was coined by educator Marc Prensky in 2001. Prensky had noticed teachers were having trouble teaching because their students were thinking “digitally.” And the teachers were teaching in, essentially, a foreign language.
Fifteen years ago, most teachers (and business leaders and pastoral ministers) thought of computers and the Internet simply as faster tools. But anyone born after the 1980s doesn’t think of “tools.” They have been born and raised in a new reality — a new culture. When a baby-boomer teacher asks a millennial child to put away his smart phone, it’s like asking a boomer to stop speaking and thinking. It doesn’t make sense to the child.
There are no tools
So that was my challenge. I had been asked to speak to a gathering of mostly baby boomers (born 1945-1964) and some gen-xers (born 1965-1984) about how to use the “tools” of the millennial generation (born after 1984). And I knew that for the millennials, there were no “tools.” There was just the way things are.
Fortunately, smarter people have already been struggling with this. Loyola University of New Orleans professor Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, in her book Connected toward Communion, speaks about the reality and challenges of the new digital culture. Citing Pope John Paul II’s 2005 apostolic letter, The Rapid Development, Zsupan-Jerome writes that the pope “summarizes and affirms the Church’s imperative to consider social communication not just as a tool but as a new culture into which the church is called to integrate the message of the Good News” (109).
Why this matters for RCIA
Here is why any of this matters for RCIA teams. There are millions of people who live in the digital culture who need to hear good news. There is a lot that is good about the digital culture, but it has a dark side, just as all cultures do. The natives of the digital culture, young people born after 1984, are much less likely to belong to a church than are their elders. The result is that those who are alienated or wounded or marginalized in the digital world suffer from a loss of dignity and hope.
We have a message that can restore their dignity and give them hope, but most of us do not speak the language of the digital culture. Our challenge is to become digital immigrants, to immerse ourselves in that culture, to learn its language and customs, and then begin to share the good news of Jesus’s message.
This won’t be easy for most of us. It may even be risky. It’s not really the job most of us signed up for when we joined the RCIA team. But Pope Francis has asked us to be bold. He said:
It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the Internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence. (Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter)
What is your experience?
Do you consider yourself a digital native or a digital immigrant? What strategies have you used to evangelize in the digital culture? What challenges have you experienced?
6 thoughts on “The RCIA in a digital world”
Had a wonderful RCIA experience with you (Nick and Diana) in Litchfield, IL a few months ago. Keep me on your mailing list. One can always use a boost!
I am a member of the RCIA team here at St. Michael Catholic Church, San Diego, CA. I went through a Diocesan RCIA course and have been handling RCIA sessions for a long time.Currently there are 5 of us who rotates every Sunday of the month and so I handles a session about once a month. Sometimes I think it would be better if only o or two handle the sessions because in our present arrangement I hardly even know who is who by name! I agree that digital means should be incorporated, because most of the catechumens/candidates are of the digital generation. I have also learned to go to the internet and its very helpful to me personally in my spiritual journey. As I was telling my students, we are all together in this journey with me as the guide (not the instructor or teacher as conventionally thought of). Thanks for what you are doing.
I have been teaching RCIA now for about 15 years. I consider myself an immigrant to the digital world but I teach teens RCIA for children and the Adult RCIA class. I entered the digital world because of the teens. Yet I see something very good about the digital world with the adults. Everyone lives a very busy life these days and our meetings are on Sunday which can interfere with family time and while I was reading this article I realized that the sessions could be put (at leased the information part) on the internet for future reference and for the adults that have family things planned. In this way the Inquirer or Catechumen can have some information about what they missed and can even give feedback or questions on line. I think this is a new inroad into our means of communicating .and evangelizing. Thank you for all your great ideas. Maureen from Grand Terrace, CA.
I am the RCIA coordinator at Chirst the King Parish in Pleasant Hill, CA, USA. Like Maureen Smith (above), I make extensive use of the digital world. This happens in 3 ways:
1. After each RCIA session, we send an e-mail message the next morning to all participants and team members. The content consists of a personal message about the night before and 6-8 files related to the topic of the session. These files consist of the PowerPoint show of the main teaching, plus past homilies related to the topic, and pertinent quotes from people like Stephen Colbert, Elizabeth Gilbert, writings of the sainst, prayers, etc.
2. We also offer “long distance” RCIA instruction to those across the country and in the Armed Forces who cannot attend a local RCIA program. To allay any objections from your readers, we do strongly urge them to make connection with a local parish, if possible. At the end of the year-long 30-session series, we write a letter of reference to the local pastor, detailing all the topics that have been covered. We’ve actually had “graduates” who have traveled from out of state and Canada to our parish at Easter to be received into the Church. Lest this sound too impersonal, i can guarantee from years of experience that the sharing between instructor and candidate gets very personal over time.
3. We offer the same kind of preparation for adult Catholics requesting the Sacrament of Confirmation. In these cases we offer a digital 10-week review course on the sacraments.
Anyone wishing more information about the above three options can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historically the Church has always responded to the challenges of technology to fulfil Jesus’ command to spread the good News and baptise. In the early years believers “listened” to the Word, then some time later the Church needed to respond to the people becoming literate. Much later wireless came in, and then television. When my father was ill he would watch “Mass for you at Home” on Sunday mornings, that way remaining connected to his God.
The hardest thing about the internet resources for RCIA is that while some talks are excellent for catechesis, most are too long, while others have too much personal conversation, which annoys me, and is not relevant to my group (We do our own How has Your week been?). Some videos begin with, “I suppose it is …” This shows lack of understanding on behalf of the presenter, or that the presenter is experiencing some temporary doubt. Other videos have excellent material, but the presenter is talking too quickly. My RCIA group is multicultural, and speed of the talking during the presentation is a definite issue. It took me six months of sifting through youtube material for what I needed and now use in RCIA. Five to six minutes per talk tops, with relevance to the topic, informative and definitive.
It was a pleasure to meet you in Perth.
The digital world offers much to RCIA practitioners if we are prepared to move beyond the obvious.
I currently use a number of well proven catholic websites to help me prepare my material for each Sunday’s dismissal discussion. The usefulness of these sites is that it helps me get a much deeper understanding of the readings. This in turn helps me prepare some thought challenging material for the catechumens using Nick’s 3 step dismissal discussion questions; “what did you see, hear and so what will it mean for your life?”
One of the advantages of being a member of TeamRCIA’s Platinum Circle is that we have an online discussion group. This online forum allows us to share ideas and discussions related to our roles in RCIA in our parishes (some advertising for Nick; become a member, join us and expand our thinking and discussions). This experience combined with Nick and Diana’s presentation at the Australian national catechumenate network conference has given me the idea that we could do much more for evangelising through Facebook and other similar platforms.
I can see the potential for using a Facebook “closed” discussion group to provide support to catechumens that would enable them to use a digital contact to post questions to their sponsors and RCIA team as they think of them. It can also be used to maintain discussion after dismissal and catechetical sessions during the following week.
Similarly, we could establish a second Facebook group for neophytes. During the catechumenate we develop regular (usually weekly) contact and discussion with a catechumen, however after initiation, in many cases they are set free into the parish community to “fend” for themselves. Why not consider a Facebook discussion group to continue to provide support for them and their godparents? This idea could be extended to establishing an online parish discussion group. Having it as a FB “open” group is probably a step too far for most of us shy introverted catholics!
I know that many of us digital dinosaurs don’t like Facebook, probably because we don’t understand how to tap into its potential, but an alternative digital support system could be through a blog page similar to this one that Nick and Diana are using here.
Many of us are in parishes that already have Facebook pages to provide basic information such as Mass times, sacramental information, etc. Maybe now is the time for us to become digital dynamics and get ourselves involved in the parish Facebook page to evangelise and promote RCIA. I can see a few ways we could be dynamic; a short post on the key discussion at this week’s catechetical session, another post on some key learning in the dismissal discussion, using your preparation for dismissal discussion to pose a “question of the week” on each week’s readings on the parish FB page.
I know that after hearing Nick and Diana at the Australian conference, it is time that I have to dive into the digital world. I invite you to do the same.