Is your RCIA open all year-round? Managing RCIA seekers’ expectations

One thing I’ve learned in this ministry is that everyone comes to it with certain expectations. This is one of the biggest challenges when working with your initiation team in moving to a year-round process. But your team and your parish leadership are not the only ones with certain expectations. Your seekers also come to the process with certain expectations, and those expectations often reveal themselves during your first contact with them. This means managing their expectations is something we need to be prepared for right from the start.

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RCIA seekers expectations

If you think the idea of a year-round process is hard for your team to grasp, it’s even harder for many seekers to grasp. We like to take comfort in the idea that our seekers know absolutely nothing about the initiation process, giving us some kind of “blank slate” from which to start, but in my experience these types of seekers are few and far between.

When it comes to working with adults (of any age), they already come to us with a wide variety of life experiences (and biases) that can, even subconsciously, affect how they may expect the process to work. Those expectations can be affected by:

  • Knowing someone else who’s been through the initiation process
  • Having begun the RCIA process at another parish or years ago
  • Being raised in the Catholic tradition but not ever having been baptized
  • Being raised in another Christian faith tradition
  • Having family or friends who are Catholic or raised Catholic

All these variables, and many others, will give your seekers a perspective that can influence what they think the initiation process may be like. The most common I’ve encountered is that they expect the process to be more of an academic exercise with a fixed schedule, not necessarily one driven by the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve seen this in what is perhaps the most popular question I get form a first contact seeker — “How long does it take?” Talking them off that ledge is a challenge, especially for those seekers who are more focused on the end result than the journey itself. We need to be prepared to address this question with compassion and understanding because in many cases we’re completely blowing their minds when we have to tell them that we don’t know how long the process might take for them (at least, not until they’ve gone through the precatechumenate process).

Some RCIA seekers do their homework

I’ve also found that an increasing number of seekers come to us after having done some homework by searching the internet to learn more about the process before they contact us. In fact, many of them are contacting us because they found us through the internet. Trouble is, the internet can be both a blessing and a curse, making my journey in this ministry both exciting and frustrating. Exciting in that it provides access to information and communication far faster and more efficiently than ever. Frustrating in that the internet is also a huge source of misinformation, incomplete information or “not entirely correct” information. This can create some confusion for those seekers relying on that information.

While we can’t control what our seekers are looking at prior to talking with us, at the very least we can control the messages coming from our own parish website and social media sites. When was the last time you looked at your parish website? When was the last time you updated the information about your adult initiation processes? Is adult sacrament preparation part of your parish’s regular page that discusses the sacraments? At the very least we can make sure our own web sites and social media sites are providing accurate and up-to-date information about your adult initiation processes. And most importantly, making sure that adult seekers can start these processes anytime they are ready.

Managing the seeker’s expectations in your parish RCIA

It’s difficult when you have to challenge a seeker’s expectations, but one of the keys to success is by replacing their previous expectations with new expectations. After all, their goal, initiation into the Church, remains the same. What’s different is the journey — how they get there and what that road may look like. This is where an effective pre-catechumenate program can help.

You can tell seekers that while we may not know right this moment how long the process may take, we can assure them that you will be discover together what it will take to get them to their goals. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

In the meantime, it’s important for them to understand that the RCIA process is not an academic exercise; it’s a journey of conversion. Your seekers aren’t joining a club; they are becoming part of a community. Your parish community. Part of the larger Body of Christ. Your family. So if we welcome them with open arms whatever expectations they may have had will be replaced with a sense of belonging.

Your turn

When you first talk with seekers, how do you talk to them about what to expect in the RCIA? How have you helped them navigate these expectations? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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