What is the program for conversion in the RCIA?

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIARecently someone asked me if we had a program for RCIA. I told them the parish is the program. That might sound evasive or nonresponsive, but I really believe that. Let’s look at how this might work.

In the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, we are told that before an inquirer can celebrate the Rite of Acceptance, they must show “that the beginnings of a spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root.”

So what are these “beginnings” and “fundamentals”? And shouldn’t we have a program that teaches these things, whatever they are?

The “curriculum” for conversion

The rite goes on to tell us what these “beginnings” and “fundamentals” are:

  • evidence of first faith
  • initial conversion and intention to change their lives
  • intention to enter into a relationship with God in Christ
  • evidence of the first stirrings of repentance
  • a start of the practice of calling on God in prayer
  • a sense of Church
  • some experience of the company and spirit of Christians (RCIA 42)

If we think of faith formation as program delivery, we have a problem with these criteria. How do we create a program that delivers “first faith” or “initial conversion”? How many sessions will be required to form an “intention to enter into a relationship with God in Christ” or to show “evidence of the first stirrings of repentance”?

The program for conversion is life in Christ

In order to bring the seekers up to the standards required of them in RCIA, we need to think of developing their relationship with Christ instead of creating a program for them. And the place we find Christ is in the parish—the Christian community.

Click for your FREE WORKSHEET: “Who should enter the period of the catechumenate?”

Now, I can almost hear the objection that Christ is not limited to the parish community. That’s right of course. But the parish is the “school” of Christian formation. It is not a school with classrooms and textbooks. It is a school in the sense that we share a common belief, and join together as followers of Christ.

Weaving a life of faith

In order to be “schooled” or formed in the disciplines of Christ-followers, we have to immerse the seekers in the experience of what it is like to be a parishioner. After we have enmeshed the seekers in the “fabric of parish life” (“Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us,” 118), we can then begin to look for signs that the disciplines of the faith are beginning to take hold or take root.

It is similar to the difference between an American learning to read Spanish versus deciding to become a Mexican citizen. A seeker can learn the facts about the faith—the “language.” But he or she cannot become a Christian without living among and learning from other Christians.

To extend the citizenship metaphor a bit, what we are looking for before the Rite of Acceptance is the willingness of the seeker to move to another country for a period of immersion learning. The list of “beginnings” and “fundamentals” above are the signs that they are ready to make that initial move. This is the very beginning of their conversion process. Once they have entered the catechumenate, we will continue the immersion process to make them full citizens of the reign of God.

What do you think?

Is your parish catechumenate more like a program or more like an immersion process?

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIACheck out this webinar recording: “Six signs of conversion that must happen in the RCIA “ Click here for more information.

See also these related articles:
  1. Discover a simple way to help the whole parish catechize the RCIA way
  2. How to use your parish as your RCIA textbook
  3. How to reduce hoop jumping in the RCIA
  4. Is your RCIA team cooperating with God’s grace?
  5. How to completely transform the way catechumens learn in the RCIA

“dune walkway to beach” by Steve Hardy | Flickr

Share Button


  1. More like a program, much to my despair. I’ve worked with seekers that jump into the life of the parish; they are a joy. But many, if not most, that approach me about joining the church have little interest in doing more than the minimum. Perhaps they are not really seeking yet, or not with intensity. In fact, the majority of “registered parishioners” are not engaged in the life of the parish. And perhaps this is the crux of the problem–too few witnesses & disciples.
    But, I’m challenged by your article to change my approach when someone asks me about entering into the life of the parish. Should I first engage them in the broader parish life before involving them in the specialized group of RCIA? My prideful fear is that the broader life of the parish is not as evangelistic as the environment that I can manufacture. Might not be true.

  2. Hi Dominic. Thanks so much for your comment. And thanks also for your commitment to keep struggling with this for the benefit of your seekers. I agree that some seekers are not really seeking yet. They really need more of an evangelization process and less of what you identify as a specialized RCIA process.

    I also resonate with you about your fear that parish life may not be very evangelistic. I think that about my parish sometimes. But the parish we have is the parish we have. That’s what the seekers will be joining. I think we have to do the best we can to find the evangelistic moments and then rely on the Holy Spirit for the rest.

    Blessings on all your work. You are in my prayers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *