Why RCIA ministry is overwhelming — and what to do about it

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAThe number-one reason RCIA ministry is so overwhelming is our inability to say no.

I’ll bet you thought I was going to say lack of volunteers. Sure, more volunteers will help. But I once encountered a parish that had 35 members on its RCIA team. And they all felt overwhelmed.

The truth is, no matter how much or how little help we have, many of us never seem to get out from under all our obligations. The only solution is to start saying no.

Why we can’t say no

Saying no used to be really hard for me. But I got over it. I had to. I was missing out on spending time on things that really mattered to me. I was spending so much time on what other people thought was important, my own priorities got little attention.

If you’re like me, it’s probably hard to say no for some of these reasons:

  1. You don’t want to be rude
  2. You like the attention you get from saying yes
  3. You worry the project won’t get done if you don’t do it
  4. You worry the project won’t be done right if you don’t do it
  5. You don’t want people to think badly of you
  6. You’re afraid of passing up a “golden opportunity”

The real reason we can’t say no

But all of these are not the deep reason many of us can’t say no. What underlies all of these is a lack of discernment. God gave you gifts for a specific reason. What is that? What is your thing? What gives you joy? What ignites your passion? What feeds your soul?

Once I had a clear vision of what God was calling me to, what God had gifted me for, it was much easier to say no. Now, if someone asks me to do something that’s not my thing, I can say no because I know that’s not what God is asking me to do.

  • Will you chair the banquet committee? No, not my gift.
  • Will you write a bulletin announcement? No, doesn’t give me joy.
  • Will you help out with the Christmas environment? No, I have no passion for it.
  • Will you help start a new committee the pastor wants to form? No, doesn’t feed my soul.

It’s not about time; it’s about passion

Notice, that none of these “no’s” have anything to do with time. Maybe I have lots of time this week, and writing a bulletin announcement would only take a few minutes. Shouldn’t I sacrifice my desires for the good of the parish and say yes?

No! That’s the point. God gave you gifts for the good of the parish, the good of your life, and the good of the world. Every minute you spend not using those gifts, every time you “sacrifice” your time for what someone else wants you to do, you are not doing what God wants you to do.

How to find your passion

What if you don’t know what your true gifts are and what God is calling you to do? I wish I could give you a simple answer for that. The discernment process is different for everyone.

I know this one thing. You have to pray. A lot. And listen with your heart. A lot. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, that kind of deep listening prayer is hard to do.

So start saying no right now. Even if you accidentally say no to something that is what God is calling you to do — for now, that’s okay. If you don’t know what your thing is, your top priority is to discover your calling. Once you know what that is, you can start saying yes to only those things that God is asking you to say yes to.

How did you learn to say no?

I know that many of you have already figured out how to say no to anything that doesn’t ignite your passion. How did you learn to do that? What are some strategies you used? Share your insights, and help others as they start to say no more often.

See also these related articles:
  1. Four ways to attract more seekers using social media
  2. This little light of mine — how to let it shine
  3. RCIA unwrapped
  4. The power of ten — how to generate great ideas for RCIA
  5. How to feed 5,000 on a Tuesday in Advent

Photo: Gerd Altmann | Pixbay


  1. I keep my life stress free (for the most part) and joyful by focusing on my “yes”. My “yes” creates a thousand “no”s that I never have to say, because people see my “yes” and know to look elsewhere for help on other projects before they even come to me.

    I have also discovered in my journey of life that my level of stress correlates directly to the difference between my expectations and the actual reality in which I live.

    Somewhere along the way during my teen years and young adulthood, I imbibed the idea that reality will always conform to my expectations – that my expectations have some kind of magical effect on reality, changing it into what I want it to be. “Imagine yourself into great success!” “Think and grow rich!” “Make your lemons into lemonade!” Hard experience has shown that this is simply not the case. Now, obviously nothing can be accomplished without imagination, and without turning the dream into a goal by means of hard work and deadlines. But simply imagining how you would like things to go, doesn’t actually cause them to go the way you want them to.

    For example, you can say, “I hope the children will behave themselves,” and you can do your best to create an environment that promotes harmony among the children – but they still might misbehave, and you have to have a plan for that, as well, rather than simply expecting your hopes to become reality merely because you hoped so.

    The difference is that by the end of the day, you can be screaming in frustration at the children because they did something you hoped they would not do (your level of stress being equal to the difference between the harmonious day you were imagining, and the chaotic day that actually occurred), or you can say to the children, “I thought you might do something like that, so here’s what we’re going to do together to make things better.” In other words, act on your plan for when reality does what you always knew it was going to do, anyway, instead of being stressed out that reality did not match your hopes.

    Once I was able to let go of the idea that I could change reality by means of my expectations, and instead began to meet and deal with reality on its own terms, without trying to change it by means of setting expectations, I became a lot happier, because I had a lot more control over my reactions to it.

    What does that have to do with saying “no,” you’re wondering. Having a realistic grasp of my abilities allows me to see exactly where my limits are. But I don’t just say “no.” I help in the ways that I can. For example, with regard to the example of writing a bulletin announcement, instead of just saying “That’s not my gift” (which sounds pompous; it sounds like you’re saying, “God created me for greatness, and these petty tasks are beneath my royal highness”) you can say something like, “Mary Ellen has such a gift for writing; I am thinking that she would do a much better job of it than I ever could. Have you asked her, yet?” This is much more helpful (assuming Mary Ellen would be glad to do it, of course!) and it sounds humble. You’re still saying that it’s not your gift, but you’re not coming across as a pompous twat who thinks he has more important things to do, and you’re giving the person who needs the help a place to go next.

  2. In the 11 years of teaching in RCIA and Faith Formation, one thing I learned was to keep things simple. Especially in inquiry. Many years ago, I attended the RCIA Forum. A four day workshop. It started with, RCIA is messy. Sometimes we come up with so many rules. We forget the other rules in our lives. I remember in College, our professors would give classwork, as if theirs was the only class. They did not worry that I had a family, a full time job and carrying full time credits. We do the same in RCIA and Faith Formation. Parents complain about little time. Kids hardly play and if they are in sports, this collides with RCIA and Faith Formation. We had a DRE for three years that felt we needed to enrich the programs. There were retreats for the students almost every weekend. They were in church four days a week. Parents were worn out, children were worn out. Some parents complained about the amount of homework the kids were getting. The idea is to keep things simple. Jesus was simple. We do not need to add more than there is. The DRE we had that wanted to enrich, kept looking for more things to add, more material to read. That is not the answer. The idea is to help the students and parents live a way of life, not by spending all their time in church, but by living it outside the walls of the temple. By acknowledging and feeding the poor in the streets. That too is church. Life today is complicated. I have been blessed to have been in the Lay Ministry Program for three years. We learned much. I have been taught to be an altar server, sacristan, teacher. In this, people are always asking me to do things and join their group. I kindly decline. I have a best friend who lives with me and is suffering from cancer, I am her caregiver and I have an 18 year old son. In this, I tell people, there is life outside the church. In all we do, let us give with love, not just in the church, but out in the streets. We are teaching a simple way of life. Compassion, Mercy, Love, Forgiveness, Humility, Charity. Some programs add doctrine, dogma, which can be helpful, but we forget, this is a lifetime journey. I always say, what is the sense of shoving so much down their throats, overwhelming them, then once they receive their sacraments, they are out the door. It happens often in our parish.

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