I once had to call an online shoe company about a problem with my order, and I was dreading it. These days, you don’t get to talk to a human. You have to “press or say” numbers in response to robotic questions. But I had no choice. I took a deep breath and dialed the number for Zappos. And a human answered the phone! A real person who seemed happy to hear from me. And who solved my problem.
I leaned that whenever anyone calls Zappos, any time of day or night, a real, happy, engaged human will answer the phone. That’s because long ago Zappos decided they wanted to do more than sell shoes to customers. They wanted create converts to Zappos.
How are converts created?
The way Zappos creates converts is by measuring and rewarding personal emotional connections that employees make with customers. They do not measure things like number of calls handled because that would encourage employees to rush through calls to get more calls handled. (The record for the longest customer service call in Zappos history is almost eleven hours.)
Our job as catechumenate ministers is to create converts. We should be better at it than a shoe company, shouldn’t we? In order to create converts, what do we measure and reward?
This may not be true for your parish, but what most parish teams measure is class topics taught. However, the Rite (Order) of Christian Initiation of Adults, never mentions classes. The church does not expect us to set up classrooms and measure attendance or chapters covered or topics taught as markers of conversion.
How the mystery of Christ invites conversion
What does the church expect? The Rite (Order) of Christian Initiation of Adults tells us in the very first sentence:
The Order of Christian Initiation described below is designed for adults who, upon hearing the proclamation of the mystery of Christ as the Holy Spirit opens their hearts, consciously and freely seek the living God and undertake the journey of faith and conversion. (OCIA 1)
The church is looking for conversion to “the mystery of Christ.” For many parishes, most of the people in our catechumenate processes are already converted to “the mystery of Christ.” The catechumenate is not for them. While they do need some kind of adult faith formation, the catechumenate process (everything listed in “Part One” of the table of contents”) is focused on initial conversion — the conversion to Jesus Christ of those who have never, ever had any relationship with Christ.
The new translation says that for unbaptized seekers to start out on the journey of faith, they need to celebrate the “Rite of Entrance into the Catechumenate.” (The current translation calls it the “Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens.”)
How “ready” does an inquirer need to be?
So how do we know that an inquirer who has never, ever had any relationship with Jesus Christ is ready to convert? We have to measure and reward changes that indicate conversion. And the Rite (Order) of Christian Initiation of Adults tells us exactly what to measure before we celebrate the Rite of Entrance into the Catechumenate:
In order for them to take this step, it is necessary for the beginnings of a spiritual life and the foundations of Christian doctrine to have been planted in the inquirers, namely:
- the first faith conceived during the Period of the Precatechumenate;
- an initial conversion and a desire to change their lives and enter a relationship with God in Christ;
- a consequent beginning of a sense of penitence and of a habit of calling on God and of prayer;
- a sense of the Church;
- a first experience of the company and spirit of Christians through contact with a Priest or some members of the community;
- and preparation for this liturgical order. (OCIA 42)
The number of topics we teach is not a good measure for these behavior changes. Like Zappos, we need to create personal connections with the inquirers, and through patient example and mentoring, we then apprentice them into the Christian life. This may take a lot more time than getting through our class schedule. But following the vision of the church and measuring these kinds of behavior changes will lead to actual and lasting conversion in our seekers.
What does conversion look like in your parish? How do you identify it happening in your inquirers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.