Those of us who serve in the ministry of catechesis know the disconnect that exists between religious education and families who do not attend Sunday Mass. How do we get parents who drop off their kids at faith formation classes but do not attend Mass into church on Sunday? We can try gimmicks, requirements, scolding, and guilt, but the only thing that will get families into the pews is conversion. I’d like to share one strategy I tried this year which is bearing much fruit.
Our parish staff made a commitment to increasing our one-on-one interactions with parishioners. We have a very large parish, so our parishioners can easily stay anonymous. I attempted to meet with every new family who registered for our program in my office, at the family’s home, or in a local coffee shop. If their children were present, I gave them a coloring book and included them in much of the conversation. I asked about their family, their children’s likes and dislikes, talents, and challenges before presenting them a basic outline of our curriculum. Then I asked if they had any questions about their child’s faith formation or our parish. Only after we had established a level of comfort and mutual trust would I ask the question that made the parents pause and reflect: Why do you want to send your child to faith formation class?
Some parents struggled to articulate their answer, because they have been distant from their faith; it has not been a part of their daily lives. This gave me an opportunity to explain what religious education is all about: supporting parents as the primary catechists of their children. I explained that faith is not something we can learn in a class that meets one hour a week; it is something we live and grow into with our families. I was very frank and told them that nothing we do at faith formation would make any sense to their children if the faith was not a part of their home life. Practicing the faith at home includes praying together, reading the Bible together, talking about faith, and, most importantly, attending Sunday Mass.
I assured parents that the parish exists to help them raise their children in the faith. I offered them a family prayer book. I encouraged them to use the materials children bring home from faith formation class as a starting point for conversations about the faith. I also told them that if they could only get to the church once a week, it was more important for them to attend Mass together as a family than to come to our faith formation program. I asked them to be honest in discussing the obstacles that prevented them from attending Mass: Was it a busy schedule? Getting very young children ready in the morning? Were they simply out of the habit? Did they lack motivation? I offered a listening and understanding ear and provided suggestions and solutions that might help them bring their children to Mass and keep them engaged.
Some families simply smiled and agreed politely with everything I said. Some families challenged me. And some families I have since seen in the pews, which is what really matters.
How do you reach out to the families of the children in your faith formation program? How do you encourage Mass attendance?