A popular idea for engaging adults in faith formation is to invite parents of children in RE to some type of enrichment at the same time that their children are in class – another way to combat the “drop-off” mentality. These efforts are often met with mixed results. Some parishes have had success with this approach while others get only a handful of parents to stay.
Part of the problem is that we are often inviting adults to something that looks, feels, and sounds like going back to school: we are inviting them to classes. They have no more desire to do that than their children have for going to RE classes (which is why I am always harping on the notion of making children’s RE sessions resemble the Mass more than class! See my book, Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox for more).
So, what’s the alternative? I propose that we invite parents to stay when their kids go to RE classes because we NEED them to help with outreach. Instead of inviting them to a class, tell them that you NEED them to help make and pack sandwiches for the food pantry/soup kitchen. Tell them that you NEED them to bring and pack clothes (or canned foods, or books, etc.) for a clothing (food, book) drive. Tell them that you NEED them to prepare care packages of toiletries for the homeless shelter. (Caution: make sure your invitations appeal to men as well as women. Knitting quilts or making cupcakes can be nice ideas but it will reinforce the notion many men have that “church stuff” is for women. Always make it clear that the activity will involve some heavy lifting such as packing boxes so that men feel NEEDED).
You can call the experience the “Helping Hands” activity and open it up to other adults in the parish as well. Team up with the St. Vincent de Paul Society for ideas (see my recent post about the St. Vincent de Paul Society and adult faith formation).
All of these activities can happen when their kids are in class and parents can be welcomed with light refreshments, gathered for a brief prayer, put to work, and then invited to socialize until the kids are ready to be taken home. Perhaps as part of the opening prayer or as a separate closing prayer, you can invite them to hear, reflect, and discuss the upcoming Sunday Gospel and invite them to share prayers of intercession so that you begin to engage them in faith formation/sharing. Gradually, consider having an occasional guest speaker or a video to go with the activity so that adult faith formation is happening but only as a result of folks being there because they feel needed.
Occasionally, a class of kids can be invited to participate with the parents in the activity as part of their service (mercy) experience.
Let’s help each other out with this. I listed some ideas above. What are some other examples of practical, hands-on service ideas that can be completed in an hour’s time by a room full of adults?