Why your RCIA bulletin announcement isn’t working — and what to do about it

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIADoes your parish have a regular or occasional notice in the bulletin inviting new participants to join the RCIA? Can you identify the target audience? Who is the message written for? Who do you imagine reads it? Who are you hoping will respond to it?

I read these notices all the time. They tend to be a homogeneous blend of the purpose of RCIA and where and when the meetings or classes are held. If I had to guess who the intended audience was just from reading the short paragraph that appears in most bulletins, I would say it is for Catholics looking for medium to advanced adult education in Catholic teaching.

The unbaptized are not in church

I realize that most of these notices state explicitly that the RCIA is for unbaptized adults and uncatechized adults. But here’s the thing. Unbaptized adults and uncatechized adults are not reading your bulletin. And if one of them did happen to wander in some Sunday and did happen to read the RCIA announcement, they would immediately conclude that RCIA is not for them.

The announcements I’ve seen are not written in language that would attract actual seekers. Here’s an example:

“RCIA is the process designed by the Church for adults to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion.”

The person for whom the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is designed does not know what any of these terms mean:

  • RCIA
  • Sacraments
  • Confirmation
  • First Communion

The seeker probably has a fuzzy idea of what baptism means, but he or she is not seeking to “receive” it.

Here’s another example:

“RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) is a program for adults who wish to become Catholic. Our parish RCIA program will begin in mid-September.”

Most unbaptized and uncatechized seekers are not wishing to become Catholic. They are not looking for a program. And they certainly don’t want to sign up for something in mid-September (which is either too soon or too far away, depending upon when they see your bulletin—which most of them won’t, anyway).

Here’s one that is a little better:

“GOT LIFE QUESTIONS? RCIA might just be for you!”

Okay, everybody’s go life questions. So maybe the one or two seekers who happen to read the bulleting will read on. But the notice then goes on to say that RCIA is for someone who:

  • Is interested in becoming Catholic
  • Was never baptized
  • Was baptized in another Christian denomination

There is no further mention of “life questions” — what they might be or how they might be answered.

Who are we talking to?

So if our usual bulletin announcements are not working, how do we attract more inquirers?

First, you have to decide exactly who you want to attract. Think about who has gone through your RCIA process in the past. If your parish is typical, the majority of the participants have been young adults (18-19). Also, the majority of seekers were already baptized and had already had some religious formation — maybe a little, maybe a lot, but not zero. The by far, the vast majority were about to marry a Catholic.

Up until now, the single most reliable source for RCIA participants has been young people marrying Catholics. If over these last few years you have noticed a drop off in numbers, it is because marriage rates are rapidly declining, and young people are no longer going to church.

A 2015 Pew study found that those who have no faith affiliation (the “nones”) are 23% of the U.S. population. And most of the “nones” are young. 56% of people born 1990-1996 are non-affiliated.

But get this. Only 3% of the nones are atheists. Or to say it the other way, 97% of the nones believe in God. So what’s going on here?

Spiritual grazers

Young people today believe in God (or something or someone “divine” or “higher” or “above”), but they don’t believe in institutional church. They tend to be spiritual “grazers,” choosing the bits of different faiths or ethical principles that attract them the most and leaving the rest.

And what attracts many of them is service. They don’t want to be saved. They want to save. So they tend to be fans of gospel stories, for example, that focus on helping the oppressed — such as the story of the Good Samaritan. They don’t believe they have to be Christian to be good Samaritans themselves.

Watch your language

If this is the person you would like to invite into your RCIA process, then here are a few suggestions:

Don’t talk about…Do talk about…
MembershipExploration
ChurchCommunity
Catholic ChurchPope Francis
ChristianityJesus
SacramentsSpirituality
SalvationService to the poor
RCIAQuest or journey
JoiningGathering
ReceivingGiving
TeachingWisdom
Class or meetingGroup
SeptemberWelcome
AppointmentCoffee
FaithDoubt
ProgramSearch or process

Next step

As a next step, try rewriting your RCIA bulletin announcement using language that would be attractive to young adult seekers today. Post your examples in the comments below, and let’s discuss with each other the strengths of each. I’d love to hear what you have to say.


See also these related articles:
  1. Common sense ideas for attracting millennials to your parish
  2. This little light of mine — how to let it shine
  3. The simple truth about getting more RCIA inquirers
  4. How to feed 5,000 on a Tuesday in Advent
  5. Pope Francis’s message to RCIA teams: Avanti!

Photo by Ben White | Unsplash

Comments

  1. Here is my bulletin insert…
    Looking for peace?
    Needing hope?
    Feeling God’s love?

    RCIA is here for you!
    Resurrection Parish Center
    Call us, to ask your questions.
    We are here to listen…
    Peace, Hope, Love
    Awaits us through Faith

    Inquiry Classes available
    Call: Joanne MacPeek
    418-7171 ext. 216
    Resurrection Parish Mission Statement
    Convinced that Jesus communicates a new life to those who believe in Him, and that He was raised from the dead in order that we might live, we are united to the risen Lord as a people born anew to a life of hope.

    I have one inquirer this year…not sure what is happening
    I am using SEEKING CHRIST and I like it…thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Ever stop and think, “There has to be more to life than chasing my ‘to do’ list.” Well, there is. Join a few other people for a coffee or tea, bring your questions, and discover how Jesus has a plan for each one of us individually that leads to the fullness of a life well lived. Contact: xxx at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

    ( I look forward to your feedback- Della O’Malley)

  3. We do have a bulletin announcement that we use before the RCIA process begins in our parish. However, it is not designed for the Catechumens or candidates. It is designed mainly for the parishioners themselves. This reason for this is that the parishioners know of people who might be interested in deepeing their journey with the Lord. Most of our seekers come from people who have visited our parish seeking a church. I do most of the interviews for these people and the reasons they state for wanting to become part of the Catholic Church and our parish is that they feel the presence of the Spirit at our Masses and the congregation makes them feel welcome. We are a small parish but have anywhere from 4 to 20 people each year in our RCIA process. People come to where they feel wanted and loved. Our parish really tries to live the Gospel message and I believe this is what brings people to our parish and to our RCIA process.

  4. I’m not saying it’s better than anyone else’s, but it works pretty well for us:

    “Searching for a spiritual home? Our “no strings” inquiry series begins (day), (date), at (time). Ideal for learning about Catholicism and for Catholics who have not yet received Eucharist and/or Confirmation. Contact _______ (phone # or e-mail).”

  5. This is the text that goes with a photo of a bright yellow bird taking a drink out of a water spout…
    “Thirsting for God?”
    Do you know someone not baptized or baptized in a non-Catholic Christian tradition, who is thirsting for what it means to become Catholic?
    Do you know someone already Catholic but has not yet received Confirmation & Communion? They may be thirsting too! The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is a place to ask questions and seek understanding. Weekly “no obligation” inquiry sessions start [date, time, place]

    Conoces a alguien que no está bautizado o que ya es catolica pero aun no ha recibido la Confirmacion o la Comunion, que está sedienta de lo que significa ser católico? El Rito de Iniciación Cristiana de Adultos (RICA) es un lugar para hacer preguntas y buscar el entendimiento. Las clases comienzan el [date, time, place].

  6. We have used this…. yet, I will update with clearer language. Thank you for this information.

    The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) a journey for welcoming adult newcomers (inquirers) into the Roman Catholic Church. RCIA prepares the newcomers for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist by providing a personal journey that leads to a transformation of mind and spirit. Guided by the Gospel and by the examples set by the church members, newcomers find their place in the community of believers. It is a personal journey in which newcomers and team members reexamine and deepen their relationship with God.

    If you are looking into fully realizing your faith walk with the Catholic church by baptism, reconciliation, holy communion or confirmation – you are invited and encouraged to participate in ALPHA! ALPHA begins August 15, 2016! Please register online at http://www.holytrinityladera.org on the home page, bottom left! Come and learn about the Jesus you desire to know better! Any questions or concerns, contact Patti – pwieckert@holytrinityladera.org

  7. 4 weeks before our sessions begin there is an article in our bulletin explaining what the RCIA is. The topics are: 1)What is the RCIA? 2) Who comes to the RCIA? 3)WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT 4)Roles and Ministries in the RCIA
    This seems to be helpful to those who are looking and for those who may have friends or family members they may like to invite. Hopefully it helps the members of the parish be able to understand and give an explanation to those they are inviting. Anyway…it seems to work.

    The final bulletin announcement is :
    The RCIA: A Journey of Faith
    Since Jesus invited His first followers to, “Come, follow me”, the image of journey has been used to describe Christian discipleship. For each of us faith is a journey marked with moments of conversion along the way…..we move from unbelief to initial faith, from sin to repentance, from painful isolation to the joyful experience of a loving community, from fear to love.
    Faith, conversion, repentance, celebration and community – five basic elements that are present in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The RCIA provides a setting where the journey of faith and moments of conversion can be celebrated within the local Church community. The purpose of the RCIA is literally “the making of Christians”, for as Tertullian in the 4th century wrote “Christians are made, not born.”

    Join us on the journey….

    WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9
    7:00-8:30 PM PARISH HALL

    This invitation is extended to:
    anyone who has never been baptized or
    affiliated with any church and has a desire to be a member of a church community

    anyone who has been baptized in another denomination but is interested in learning about the Catholic faith

    any non-active Catholic who has been away from the Church and would like to get
    re-acquainted

    any adult Catholic who would like to learn more about the Church and mature in their faith

    Childcare Provided

  8. I really liked this article and the suggested bulletin announcements from various people. Thanks. My question is WHERE do we publicize… HOW do we reach…. the potential catechumens, potential inquirers, if not in our church bulletins? All the alternative announcements mentioned with this article are all for church bulletins. Need advice. Thanks.

  9. To Marilyn; Our local newspaper has a church news section. I have also run information and phone # several times. But the best PR is US. What do people see in the way we live our daily lives that they want to be a part of or know more about. One of my inquires once told me the reason they came to RCIA was that they worked in a cafeteria and each day a watched a group at a table make the sign of the cross before they ate. That made a lasting impression and that person has been an active member of our community for over 10 years.

  10. This is GREAT! I have always found this to be a challenge… putting notices in the bulletin. I’m much more comfortable with making announcements at Mass about our process because I’m not as limited by the number of words. I’m eager to see more examples. Further, your language guide is genius. Yes, we catechists tend to get lost in our own liturgical language, and we constantly need to recognize that our seekers often don’t know what we’re talking about.

    My own personal pet-peeve is using the term “RCIA” for explaining what we do. First, it always have to be explained. Always. And that’s never good from a “sales” perspective. Second, and more importantly, it’s generally not all that we do. How many of you also work with baptized Catholics to help them prepare for Confirmation or Eucharist? There is a lot of cross-over that can and does happen in our ministry. Even the latest Confirmation Rite teaches that we should be catechizing our adult Confirmation candidates by modeling the Catechuminate. Not everyone in our programs is preparing for Baptism. So can we finally stop calling what we do the RCIA? For the past several years we’ve been rebranding ourselves as Adult Faith Formation… because when you look at it, the RCIA is really just a subset of the larger need of our adult seekers. Some who come to us will be candidates for the RCIA, but many will not. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to help them on their journey. A process that starts with using the best lectionary based elements of the Catechuminate is a method that can be used for a variety of adult formation needs, but we also need to be mindful of both the needs of the individuals while maintaining the legitimate uniqueness of the RCIA itself.

  11. Here is one that caught my eye in a recent bulletin: Welcome Child of God! No matter what your present status in the Catholic Church, No matter your personal history, age, income, background, gender, race, ethnicity or spirituality, or marital situation. No matter your own self-image of holiness or virtue. You belong to Jesus Christ and you belong to us! You are invited, accepted and respected here at the Parish of xyz. Take our hands, Lord Jesus, leading us in courage to confront with courage the forces which oppress and divide. Take our hearts, Lord Jesus, and open them to the truth which will set other free. Accompany us on our way, Lord Jesus, as we seek to share our Roman Catholic faith and life in your Spirit. Followed by meeting time, place, phone number, contact name,etc.

  12. Here is what we we have been using, maybe too long TMI?

    Rooted from the very beginning of Church tradition, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (R.C.I.A.) is the path for welcoming new inquirers into our community of believers. If you, or someone close to you, are considering becoming a member of the Catholic community here at Our Lady of Mount Carmel then please accept our invitation to join with us weekly on Sunday, following the 8:00 AM Mass in the Small Chapel on the James Street side of the Church. In a small group discussion format, we use this opportunity to discuss the readings of the week, “unpacking” layers of meaning, church tradition, and church teachings. Most importantly, we share the relevancy of these readings in our lives today. We also discuss questions regarding the Rite itself, look at what the Rite offers all of us during this wonderful spiritual journey, and how the Church uses the Rite for those seeking any or all of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Eucharist.

    We encourage those already members of the community to consider being a part of the RCIA team where by sharing your faith you will receive the gift that comes by helping others grow in theirs.

    Finally, we ask you to consider being sponsors, walking with and supporting the inquirers as they grow. Please welcome them warmly into our community. For further information, contact John Spotorno

  13. Ok, here goes! Starting next Sunday 🙂

    Becoming Catholic announcement:

    Are you wondering what life is all about, perhaps asking yourself, “What is my purpose, or Why am I here?” You are welcome to seek answers with us! While we offer seasonal Connection to Christ groups to all adults, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) group is the particular process by which the unbaptized, and baptized Christians of other faith traditions, are especially invited to explore Catholic spirituality in community, deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our group meets weekly on Sunday mornings, year-round. The faith journey is personal to each one, and is often characterized by an awakening or conversion of the heart, that leads one to desire an authentic life of Christian discipleship. Through the foundational sacraments of initiation- Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, we encounter and participate fully in the mystery of Jesus Christ’s life, saving death and Resurrection. God wants us to know His love and fulfilling plan for our lives! As Pope Francis teaches us, “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.” Are you ready for that radical forgiveness? Come and share your Master’s joy! We welcome all inquiries and look forward to accompanying you soon. Please email Lee Hulburt, RCIA Coordinator-or call her at (858) 483-3030, ext. 117.

  14. Wow! I’ve never seen so many responses immediately after one of your posts. It really shows that this is a crucial topic.
    I am so guilty of those articles in the bulletin, yet I have always wondered how to improve them. This will be the major topic of our nest RCIA team meeting..
    Look for our response soon.

  15. Good point regarding the audience that reads the bulletin. So we address the invitation to those in the pews that frequently know someone who may be interested.

    “Inquiries Welcome
    You may have a friend or family member who has never been baptized, or baptized in another Christian faith. An acquaintance or coworker may have asked you questions about the Catholic Church. Someone may indicate to you they are searching for a sense of community, or a desire to hear more of the Good News of Jesus, the Gospel.
    They are all cordially invited to inquire about the Catholic Christian Faith by attending an open informational meeting in early September, look for the date and time. This is their opportunity to ask questions about “things Catholic” such as what do Catholics believe and what do Catholics do? This is their opportunity to raise the issues that are on their minds or in their hearts. This is their chance to get information with no commitment!
    Those who have never been baptized can investigate what it means to be Christian. Those baptized in another Christian tradition can explore the process to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. And those baptized Catholic as infants but never raided as Catholic can learn about being Confirmed and receiving the Eucharist.
    The three phases of the parish based process to become Catholic will be outlined. The first phase, appropriately called the period of inquiry, is an informal opportunity for interested individuals to begin the journey that may or may not result taking the next step toward full membership in the Church.
    For those that choose, the next step is to enter the more formal process of the Rite for Christian Initiation for Adults (commonly abbreviated to RCIA) which begins in late November and culminates with the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation) that are celebrated at the Easter Vigil in April.
    The first step begins with you, today, as you invite your family members, friends, co-workers, or others to explore what it means to be Catholic.”

  16. On Becoming a Catholic
    St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church
    Have you been thinking about becoming a Catholic? Or have people mentioned to you that they wish they had your faith? Here is an opportunity for you or someone you know to learn more about becoming a Catholic.

    The RCIA Team at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Meredith will be holding two inquiry sessions about the Catholic faith. This is a time to come and ask questions about Catholicism and to learn how you become a Catholic. The sessions are Sunday, September 25, at 11:30 – 12:30 in the Church Hall or on Thursday, September 29, from 7 – 8 in the Church meeting room downstairs next to the office. The entrance is in the back of the Church.

    There is no obligation to continue after the inquiry sessions. The sessions are for adults 18 and older. More information may be found on the Church website at St. Charles Borromeo Meredith NH, by emailing the Church office at office@stcharlesnh.org or by calling the Church office at 279-4403.

  17. A parishioner did a video interview with the parish Director of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults as well as with a woman who had participated in the process. Uploading that video ( after some careful editing) to You tube as well as the parish website, and dividing it into segments is an excellent advertisement . The information reaches seekers – the intended audience, an audience that is young, and not in church. The project entailed much effort and coordination, but was worthwhile.

  18. I do not mean to go on forever, but a couple of things occurred to me while I was writing the first comment and I hit post before I finished. I promise not to say anything else. Honest.

    Social media is the air we breathe .
    1. An up-to-date, attractive, parish facebook page is necessary.

    2. Tweeting has power : #Pope Francis Fan or some hash tag that sparks curiosity creating a desire to follow.

    3. A pastor in the Archdiocese of Boston asks the assembly at the start of Mass to post their location: “At St. Cecelia Church 9 AM Mass” – on Facebook or Twitter.

    Our imaginations are our most powerful tool in our particular context.

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