In 1968, the best team in the upstart American Football league was led by a brash young quarterback who had thrown most of his passes that year for interceptions. Even so, they were slated to go up against the far superior National Football League champions—the Baltimore Colts—in Super Bowl III. Most people expected a crushing victory for the powerful Colts.
So the sports world was more than slightly amused when three days before the big game, Joe Namath, quarterback of the New York Jets, guaranteed that he would lead his team to victory. And, of course, he made good on his boast.
It was not only the Jets’ skill that won the game. Namath didn’t throw a single pass for a touchdown—making the Jets the only team in Super Bowl history to win without a touchdown pass. What beat the Colts was complacency. The Colts were so sure of their dominance, they didn’t realize they were losing until it was too late.
Okay, I know our RCIA teams are not football teams. But all teams, no matter what kind, tend toward complacency. In his book, Leading Change, John P. Kotter says the way to overcome complacency is to increase the urgency level. The more complacent your team or your parish, the more difficult it will be to create a sense of urgency. Kotter lists nine ways to increase urgency for business teams, and not all of them translate well to ministry teams. However, some of his action steps can give us some insight. Here are five.
Eliminate obvious examples of excess
Excess in the business world includes things like country club memberships and executive dining rooms. What excesses do RCIA teams have? One example that comes to mind is the number of baptized candidates in our RCIA process. Unless a baptized person is truly uncatechized (as opposed to under catechized) they are not subjects of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
When I’ve said this at workshops, inevitably someone responds, “If we didn’t include baptized people, we wouldn’t have anyone at all in the RCIA!” Exactly. And that’s a crisis. That requires urgent action.
Set high targets so they cannot be reached by conducting business as usual
Business targets include things like profits and productivity. Initiation ministry has one target—hearts converted to Christ. Our single purpose is to find people who have not heard the good news and lead those people to Christ. Most of us are not used to thinking of finding people who need to hear about Jesus. We wait for them to find us.
- If you set a target of annually finding at least two or three or five or twenty-five people who have never heard the good news, you will come closer to creating a sense of urgency
- Set the goal high enough that it will shake things up in your parish
- But also make it realistic enough that people don’t give up before they even try
Insist more people be held accountable for broader measures of performance
Who in your parish is responsible for finding people who have never heard the good news? I’ll tell you who it is in my parish. It’s the Holy Spirit. We wait for the Holy Spirit to send us people. And that is the only person we hold accountable. If no one shows up, well, the Spirit must not want us to initiate anyone this year. That, of course, is a terrific example of complacency.
- To get past this complacent attitude and increase the urgency level, get commitments from everyone in parish leadership to reach out to those who need to hear the good news
- Start with getting commitments from everyone on the RCIA team
- And then schedule regular times to follow up on how everyone is doing
Use consultants to force more relevant data and honest discussion
Let’s face it. Most of are not good at evangelizing effectively. We need help. Fortunately, there is lots of help available.
- More and more chanceries have staff people with expertise in evangelization. Bring someone in to talk with your team
- In most dioceses, there is a priest or a youth minister or a choir director who always has great success at drawing large numbers of people. Bring that person in to consult with you
- When I go to church every Sunday, I have to go through a traffic jam at what is usually a quiet neighborhood intersection. On Sunday morning, however, the local Pentecostal parish hires private cops to direct traffic in front of their church. Same neighborhood and same demographic as my Catholic parish. And we have Mass in two languages! So why are they so much more successful at attracting people? Somebody should ask them
Bombard people with information on future opportunities and rewards
What rewards do you get from initiation ministry? Here’s what it is for me. When I meet someone who really has no idea who Jesus is, and then I witness them turning their life around and experiencing, for the first time, the hope and peace I’ve known all my life—it’s like drugs. I’m addicted. When I help a faithful Protestant-married-to-a-Catholic experience his faith more deeply, that’s a thrill too. But it doesn’t compare to walking with someone who is meeting Christ for the very first time.
It is possible you have team members who have never experienced leading someone to Christ for the first time. Tell them stories. Tell them what it’s like. Increase their level of urgency to go out and share the good news with those who have never heard it.
Share what’s worked for you
I know from talking with lots of teams across the country that some of you are already good at increasing the levels of urgency in your parish. And some of you have been trying to initiate change, but you get stymied by high levels of complacency—”the way we’ve always done it.” If you’d be willing to share your stories, you can help the rest of us get better at this.
- What are your successes?
- What are your frustrations?
- What have you tried?
- What are you planning to try?
Thanks for your thoughts and for all you do to bring people to Christ.
See also these related articles:
- Start changing your RCIA process now—before it’s too late!
- Can your RCIA team recognize these 6 deadly barriers to conversion?
- 5 ways RCIA leaders can overcome “the way we’ve always done it”
- Make the shift from “RCIA team” to “coalition for change”
- Get an RCIA vision for your parish (angelic visitation optional)
- 6 essential rules for communicating a new RCIA vision
- Here’s the number-one rule for building an RCIA team
- What happens when you rock the RCIA boat?
- A few things you probably didn’t know about the Rite of Election
- RCIA will never be the same again