Perhaps the most frequent question we get here at TeamRCIA is some version of: “How do I convince [INSERT NAME/TITLE] that they should do [INSERT ACTION]?
For example: “How do I convince the pastor we should be dismissing the catechumens from Mass?”
Other versions of the question involve trying to convince the deacon, the parishioners, the head of the RCIA team, the members of the RCIA team, or the catechumens themselves. The questions all have a couple of things in common.
First, the questioner is frustrated that they can’t get the other party to agree. Second, the other party seems like an immovable impediment to the right way of doing things.
In order to convince anyone to do anything, we have to first let go of our frustration. Speaking as someone who has my frustration on speed dial, I know how hard that is. Nevertheless, acting out of frustration will only increase your frustration. Instead, try to accept that the other person is coming from a good place and is trying to do what they think is best for the catechumens or for the parish. You don’t have agree with them to be able to accept their motivation.
Second, stop viewing the other person as immovable. They may be exceedingly difficult to move, but no one is immovable. Convincing someone who is resistant to change is hard work. If you want the change to happen, you are going to have to commit to the work involved to make it happen. You are going to have to commit to the time it will take to make it happen. You are going to have to commit to being a person of prayer, patience, and persistence.
The work of persuasion involves six principles. To succeed at convincing someone to change, you will need to master these six principles. These come from Robert Cialdini‘s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Reciprocity means that if I do something for you, you almost automatically feel obligated to return the favor. To put this into action, do a favor or three for the person you’re trying to convince. Or give them a small, surprise gift like homemade cookies or a cup of their favorite Starbucks order. Or simply say something nice about them in public. Set a goal to build up a bank of good will so as to generate a desire in the other person of wanting to return a favor to you in the future.
People value what is scarce, and they will change their behavior because of that. Now, the “scarce” thing doesn’t actually have to be scarce. It just has to be perceived as scarce. For example, a researcher placed two identical toys in room, but one was behind a Plexiglas wall. When some toddlers entered the room, they immediately went around the wall to get the toy that had a barrier in front, even though the other identical toy was more easily accessible. In your case, however, catechumens are not merely perceived as scarce; they are actually scarce. In presenting your argument, emphasize how you want to be sure the parish doesn’t lose these seekers. Enacting the ritual dismissal each week is a way to deepen their conversion and therefore their commitment to the parish.
People respond to authority. But not the way you might think. We sometimes think that the bishop should “make” the pastor follow the rules. Or the deacon should do what the rite says. Or the RCIA team leader should read and be persuaded by an article on the TeamRCIA website. None of these kinds of authority are as convincing as the authority of you. You may not think you have much authority, but you do. Authority comes from trust. If you build up a high level of trust with another person, you will have a high level of authority with that person. Building trust is a long-term action. It involves things like always being honest, always keeping your commitments, admitting when your wrong, being helpful, being caring. It also involves being credible, which means you have to know why you are asking for change and being able to communicate clearly why that change is important.
4. Commitment and consistency
We all believe we are consistent beings. If I tried green tea once and I didn’t like it, it will be difficult to get me to ever try green tea again. I can’t not like it one day and then like it another day. But maybe you could get me to try a green tea cookie. And in the fall, you might get me to try a sip of your pumpkin spice green tea. Maybe when I have a cold, you might convince me to try a warm honey green tea. And pretty soon, I am thinking of myself as a green tea person. To put this principle into action, you might ask for the catechumens to be dismissed only at their rite of acceptance. And down the road, ask for them to be dismissed after each of the scrutinies. Eventually, ask that they be dismissed just during Lent. And then Advent and Lent. And pretty soon, you will become a parish that dismisses catechumens every Sunday.
This principle could win the Captain Obvious prize — we are influenced by people we like. This is another long-term process, but not as long as trust building. You can generate good feelings fairly quickly by offering genuine compliments, being cooperative, and emphasizing your similarities to the person you are trying to persuade. Also, you have to do this in the right order. You have to generate a feeling of being liked before you start asking for change. If you try to do it the other way around, you aren’t going to get very far.
6. Consensus (social proof)
Humans are social beings, and we want to fit in to the group. We eat at places that get the highest Yelp reviews. We watch movies that have won awards or are trending in the top-ten-most-watched on Netflix. If your pastor’s best friend is doing the dismissal in his parish, that can go a long way to convincing your pastor to do the same. Or if the RCIA team leader learns that a significant number of parishes in the diocese are dismissing catechumens, the team leader will probably want to follow suit.
The last thing I want to say about persuading someone to change is that we have to have a degree of humility. If we are convinced we are right and the other person is wrong, that can seem arrogant. It is more Christian to assume the other person is also right. In fact, we should do our best to first understand the other person’s point of view and why what they are doing (or not doing) makes sense, at least to them. Then, after a time of prayer and reflection, we should humbly request they consider an alternative.
A humble person will not be surprised or frustrated by initial failure. At its core, the process of persuasion is a long-term effort of building a genuine relationship. In the end, even if you never convince the other person to change, you will have been changed by the efforts you made to deepen your friendship with another person.
What pushback (if any) have you received in your parish regarding the dismissal? How have you addressed these concerns? Share your experiences in the comments below.