How to completely transform the way catechumens learn in the RCIA

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAThere is one simple thing you can do to dramatically influence the way catechumens—or any adult—learns. If you can manage to make this one shift in your catechetical process, your catechumens will be more engaged, more interested, more motivated, and more committed to the conversion process.

The secret to this seemingly too-good-to-be-true transformation doesn’t require any extraordinary increase in skill on your part. You don’t have to get any advanced training. You can make this change at your very next catechetical session.

What is this miracle change? Stop transmitting content and start facilitating learning. That might sound simplistic, but this change is based on scientifically tested adult learning theory. The most effective thing you can do, hands down, to help catechumens learn is to become a facilitator of learning.

The power to change

If you don’t like the term “facilitator,” don’t let that become a roadblock to this powerful educational technique. Try thinking of yourself as a learning aide, assistant, guide, or coach. Or think of yourself as St. Paul described us: “other Christs.” Jesus’s teaching style was one that offered liberation from darkness, freedom from bondage, and power to change.

What is common in all of these images is that we are no longer in charge of the learning process. The most effective way for adults to learn is when they take responsibility for their own learning.

Adult educator Malcolm Knowles lists seven steps for facilitating learning:

  1. establish a climate conducive to learning
  2. create a mechanism for mutual planning
  3. diagnose the needs for learning
  4. create objectives that will satisfy these needs
  5. design a pattern of learning experiences
  6. conduct these learning experiences with suitable techniques and materials
  7. evaluate the learning outcomes and rediagnose learning needs

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Conducive climate

These seven steps sound a bit daunting, but they are really just common sense. A conducive learning climate is a relationship in which the adult learner feels safe and respected. You can develop a relationship with the learner by practicing basic hospitality, getting to know the person before you start listing requirements, treating the learner with respect, and beginning to discern what his or her individual needs are.

Mutual planning

A great many RCIA programs are preplanned. I know this because a simple Google search turns up hundreds of topic lists and dates the topics will be presented. These are created without the team members having ever met the future catechumens. This is a content transition model, and it is largely ineffective. Instead, we have to engage in a mutual planning process with each individual. You might think this will take an insane amount of time, but it really doesn’t. Many transmission model programs have something like a four week or six week “precatechumenate” that is yet another series of classes. If we simply stop doing those and use that time to mutually develop a learning plan with our seekers, we will be doing what the RCIA expects us to do in the inquiry phase, and we will be on the path to an effective learning endeavor for the seekers.


To diagnose is to identify the condition of something and suggest a remedy. Through your mutual planning process with the seeker, you will be able to accurately diagnose what is holding them back from living the life they want to live. And you will be able to prescribe faith-based activities within your parish that will lead the seekers to a full life in Christ.

Create objectives

Far too often, the objective for our seekers is unclear. When objectives are unclear, the seekers are left on their own to intuit what the objective of the RCIA process is. And that, in turn, leads them to conclude the objective is to get baptized. Instead, we have to work with our seekers to develop individualized objectives for living a life in Christ.

Design a pattern of learning experiences

This is where most RCIA processes struggle. All or almost all learning is supposed to take place in a 60-90 minute information transmission session. In order to be facilitators of learning, we have to help seekers discover learning activities throughout the parish that will model for them what a life in Christ entails.

Suitable techniques

We cannot, however, simply send the seekers out into the parish and expect them to “get it.” We have to support them with dedicated sponsors, frequent and ongoing mystagogical reflection, and rites that sacramentalize (small s) their experiences.


When we are planning, diagnosing, and designing learning experiences, we have to be sure to build in an evaluative piece. This evaluation should come from the seeker. Early on, we need ask, how will you know you have accomplished your objectives? Then, throughout the process, we constantly refer to that evaluative criteria to assess the progress of each seeker. Once we have this in place, we are no longer the “RCIA police,” making sure the seekers attend a certain number of Masses or sessions or rites. We simply hold seekers accountable to their own evaluation criteria.

This is just a brief overview of the process for becoming facilitators of learning. We will be hosting a webinar that tackles this process in much more depth. You can find more information at the link below.
RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIACheck out this webinar recording: “Little-known ways to turn your RCIA into an adult process—even for children “ 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

tango in red by Zabara Alexander | Flickr

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