Does 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:
- 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 got life questions. So maybe the one or two seekers who happen to read the bulletin 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?
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…|
|Catholic Church||Pope Francis|
|Salvation||Service to the poor|
|RCIA||Quest or journey|
|Class or meeting||Group|
|Program||Search or process|
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.