What RCIA teams struggle with most

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAWe recently asked you what you struggle with most in RCIA ministry, and here are some of your replies:

  • We wonder if the catechumens are “getting it all” in a year-round model.
  • How do we keep from boring folks?
  • We have trouble getting catechumens to come to Mass and breaking open the word.
  • Our biggest struggle is getting people to attend the sessions.
  • How to maintain the balance between formation and learning so that we are growing disciples and not just students.
  • We struggle with tailoring the RCIA to fit the individual. For instance this year we have an ex-Protestant minister sitting next to an unbaptized person.
  • How to fit so much into one year – Scripture, Creed, Sacraments, Prayer, Moral life, etc.
  • Often the year ends and some still don’t know how to relate to Jesus, to pray or even the Mass responses.
  • How to manage a two-year process for catechumens with more flexibility for candidates to receive sacraments earlier when all are in the same group.
  • Enough time to cover what needs to be covered.
  • Preparing the curriculum of what to teach when. When will a certain topic be the most helpful to them?
  • Going at the different paces of the participants.
  • Tailoring the message to different ages/stages in life.

The common threads that I see in all of these responses is a struggle with knowing the appropriate level of catechesis for each seeker, how to deliver that catechesis in a compelling way, and how to provide multiple levels of formation for the various people we encounter.

All of this will require more space than I have in a single blog post. However, I would like to identify some key assumptions and practical first steps.

Key assumptions

Seekers have different needs. I think we can all agree that people come to us at different levels of faith. The reality of having “an ex-Protestant minister sitting next to an unbaptized person” is something many of us have experienced.

We have to meet different needs differently. This assumption will require a change for some of us. Some teams struggle with how to be flexible enough to meet the needs of the ex-minister on the one end and the unbaptized person on the other. To make this shift, we have to first realize that a single group with a single syllabus or formation plan is not going to meet everyone’s needs equally.

Some needs will take longer to meet. Once we understand that we will have to have different formation plans for different seekers, it will be clear that everyone will not progress at the same pace. For example, some teams struggle with “getting everything in.” Well, first we have to decide what we mean by “everything.” The formation that we include under “everything” will be different for the ex-minister and the unbaptized person. For the unbaptized person, for example, regular participation at Sunday liturgy would be a key piece of their formation plan. If they are not coming to Sunday Mass, they are going to need more time in the formation process until they begin to see how crucial it is to their faith journey. Presumably, an ex-minister already knows that.

Practical first steps

Do a true inquiry process. Some teams see the inquiry period as a time for more catechesis. It isn’t. It is a time to find out what the seeker is actually seeking. During this time, you and your team will need to do a careful discernment about the needs of each seeker to determine what level of catechesis each requires. (Click here for more on how to do that.)

Create individual formation plans. RCIA teams sometimes fall into the trap of thinking of the seekers as a small group community that is on a journey together. That’s not wrong, but it can sometimes diminish our ability to be flexible with individual seekers. Instead of thinking of all the seekers as a separate community, think of them as joining the parish community. In order to be a fully functioning member of the parish, what does each seeker need? The ex-minister will need a formation plan that is much briefer and less structured than the unbaptized person.

Break the school year model. The ex-minister will probably be ready to be a fully functioning member of the parish much more quickly than a typical October-to-April RCIA process will require of him. An uncatechized, unbaptized person, on the other hand, can’t possibly come to know the full mystery of Christ in so short a time. If you are having difficulty with people not returning after initiation and not participating in parish life, it is because they have not experienced a full conversion to Christ. True conversion takes time.

Know the different levels of catechesis. The church identifies three levels of catechesis: first proclamation; initiatory catechesis; ongoing catechesis. Every RCIA team must understand what is involved in each level and must use the methods required at each level for the right seeker at the right time.

Share your thoughts

Do you struggle with some of these same issues? What have you done to recognize the different needs of your seekers? What have you done to meet their different needs? Or what do you imagine you might do in the future?

See also these related articles:
  1. What kind of catechesis is suitable for RCIA seekers?
  2. What RCIA teams struggle with most
  3. Six RCIA actions that guarantee intimacy with Christ
  4. Can an art docent help RCIA teams learn to catechize better?
  5. Six “best practices” for every RCIA catechist

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  1. Reading the questions and your responses, they all seem to focus on the same key issue, that is a process that meets the individuals need. Two things come to mind. 1) What would Jesus do. This is where I clash with most RCIA leaders. I doubt Jesus would say, “Go see the FFD and enroll in a program, and come back when you’re ready to be baptized.” No, its my understanding he said, put down your life and come follow me. I see this in the RCIA program mainly when leaders say, “its not a program, but a process.” Then they enter you into a two year program! 2) Are we thinking too individualistically? It would be great if we could have a class of one; or would it? Good sessions I’ve been privileged to be a part of would have the Protestant minister engaged with the unbaptized person, both helping and learning; Community!
    Brings me to my main focus, Sponsors. As a sponsor I brought my candidate to mass, studied Catholic teaching, introduced christian living as a way of life, discussed what was happening at sessions, and worked with RCIA leaders in focusing on where my candidate was and when to move on.
    Your bits on sponsoring and engaging the whole community really struck a positive cord with me. I was set on fire thinking, that’s really what this is about! While I struggle with Directors telling me that catechumen have to enter this “process” PROGRAM, I work with mine on a personal level bringing them into the community.

  2. Most of the topics listed above seem to focus on a one year preparation period. We never give an ending date only say that adult Baptisms take place at the Easter Vigil. I do tell them that the ideal time is three years, but it can be more or less depending upon their participation, discernment and the discernment of the team. Also candidates making a profession of faith do so at any time during the year. This is again a decision that requires prayerful discernment.

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