RCIA unwrapped

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIAWhen I was kid, Christmas morning was amazing. My brothers and I would race down the stairs to see what was waiting for us under the tree. After furiously ripping through the packaging, our faces would light with joy over each toy.

And more often than not, after an hour or so of playing with our new treasures, we would leave them aside and begin to build forts and tunnels out of the boxes they had come in.

“Repeat-play” value

30-plus-year veteran of the toy industry, Chris Byrne, has a key criterion he and his team use when evaluating toys: repeat play. Of the thousands of toys they review, the ones that get top marks are those that children actually play with over and over again.

Often, these are not the hot toys of the season that children clamor for and parents go to lengths and expense to acquire. Toy manufacturers have become skilled at adding dazzling features to toys that mesmerize shoppers. But these features mostly serve to get people to buy the toy. They don’t often add to the “repeat play” value.

The appeal of “easy-to-use”

This made me think of many resources I come across that are advertised as the hot new solution to RCIA teaching. Slick videos, shiny textbooks, four-color handouts, easy-to-use tools, adaptable to any situation and parish are some of the bells and whistles promised by the publishers. Promises that their resources will be energizing, stimulating, and relevant to your specific seekers — and all you have to do is pop in a DVD — are obviously appealing to harried RCIA teams.

Often, however, these off-the-shelf catechetical programs lack “repeat play” value for RCIA teams. I’ve worked in Catholic publishing for most of my career, and I know that most Catholic publishers are dedicated disciples who see their work as a ministry. But I also know that when it comes to true seekers, who have had little or no experience with living a Christian life, it isn’t possible to design, package, and sell a single comprehensive formation program that will be relevant to your specific situation.

The only RCIA strategies that work

There are only four things I know of that have consistent “repeat play” value for forming seekers.

  1. Regular, contemplative reflection on God’s word — word in the sense of Logos, the embodied presence of God that lives and breathes in and with us, guiding us every day closer to Truth and Beauty.
  2. Immersion in community — a community of disciples, flawed but saved, broken but healed, striving every day to love with more abandon and forgive more freely, filled with constant hope.
  3. Sacrificial worship — worship in which we join our whole being to the dying and rising of Jesus, and in which we offer grateful praise to God.
  4. Witness and service — direct, generous, courageous outreach to those who most need to hear good news and be lifted up.

These essential formation strategies do not light up, beep, fly, or require batteries. What they do require is constant attention and discipline from pastors, catechists, and RCIA team members so that the seekers will see in us examples of discipleship they can emulate. This is the best gift we can give to those who desire to live a life in Christ.

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 credit: Andrew Neel | Unsplash


  1. Excellent article! A great reminder not to become so enamored with “bells and whistles” that we ignore the basic message!

  2. Once again a wonderful, encouraging article. These four “pieces” are what allows us to live as disciples within the Catholic community. This is ALL we have to offer…… let’s not short change our seekers by not offering ALL. The programs are really the ribbon and bows on the gifts we share… the contents of each package will need to be different for each, each person, each community, each year.

    Many thanks for being there throughout 2016. Blessings moving into 2017.

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