Parents Were No-Shows

Last night, our religious education Open House attracted a number of parents of children in the lower grades, however, for the upper grades, the parents were nowhere to be found. I asked the young people at the start of class if any of their parents would be attending and they all said no, one of them saying, “My mom says it’s the same thing every year, so why bother?”

That’s disappointing. I would have loved to have met a number of the young peoples’ parents and I would like to think that the parents would want to show their interest in their childrens’ faith formation. No such luck.

It is experiences like this that intergenerational catechesis is responding to, by bringing parents and their young people together for faith formation. A question that I have, however, is: if parents aren’t willing to attend an open house for their child’s religious education, how do parishes “convince” them to attend intergenerational faith events? I’d love to hear the wisdom of those who have experience in this area.

About Joe Paprocki 2745 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

10 Comments on Parents Were No-Shows

  1. In ministry we struggle with “requirements” and “manadatory” and yet we know that we need to become a “wanna be there” church instead of the model of “hafta be there.”

    All too often it seems as though religious formation is another extracurricular of families and not seen as a place to learn a way of life. I think we need to begin with new parents bringing their infants to be baptized. This is a time that many are very busy and exhausted yet many might be open to doing the very best for their babies. This is a time to help parents learn how to teach their children to pray, what stories to read them, all of the developmental milestones of a life filled with faith practices. Families are ingrained in their way of life by the time they present their children to begin religious training. Formation becomes a disruption in their lives as opposed to a wonderful gift. It is much easier to establish family traditions and practices when parents and children are young.

    I have been part of leadership in intergenerational faith events at two parishes during the last 5-6 years. One parish is successful with encouraging a number of families to participate. This particular parish has regular formation sessions in catechists homes and not at the church building. So this is an opportunity to come to the building outside of Mass. They have gone the route of requiring attendance as a Confirmation requirement, they have left it totally optional, they have let formation groups choose whether to have a regularly scheduled session or attend the event. It is a mixed bag always and the portion of the community that attends changes based on the philosophy of the year. It is always a very small portion of the overall parish and/or religious formation programs. They do find that some families are changed by their experiences and become loyal. It is a small number though that truly will buy into it being a priority in life. This parish has a majority of attendees as families.

    The second parish has a far more adult crowd at their intergenerational events. The parents have voiced that they are satisfied with the regular Religious Formation sessions; which are at the building; and they don’t have time. The small number of families that attend are families that are regular Mass attendees and Church is a priority in their lives. The events are a major component of the parish life
    and many adults at the parish are hungry for more in their spiritual lives and because of resource limitations this is where they are fed. Even the planning team is heavily represented by adult only households. Still, like parish one, the percentage of the parish served is small.

    Yet, I keep in mind that this is the largest gathering, and a wonderful opportunity for evangelization and faith formation, outside of Mass. It generally fills a need of those that do attend.

    When doing the number crunching at both parishes, one large with a large facility and staff, one small with a small facility and staff, neither parish could physically serve the entire parish or even the entire formation programs in this way. There are not enough hours or rooms at either parish.

  2. RB, thanks for your very insightful comments. I was thinking about the “mandatory” and “required” words myself and I was wondering to what extent these words are being used by parishes doing intergenerational catechesis. I suppose my parish could “require” parents to attend the open house just as we have mandatory parent meetings for sacramental prep. We would love to have people attend solely because they desire to, but that often results in people just not attending. I’ve always felt certain that if we can attract/convince people to come to quality experiences, they will appreciate the opportunity to grow in faith and will come back for more.

  3. We work with a blended program. We have 12 classroom sessions for 1.75 hours a year and then monthly intergenerational 3 hour events, of which each family has to chose one per year.
    They have been well attended and comments have been positive. We have a generation of parents that were primarly public school educated and do not value the Catholic education of their children. We need to first pray for them, then invite them and then make them feel welcome and part of the community.
    The Holy Spirit is watering all the seeds we are all planting, we need to continue to plant seeds for Our Lord Jesus.

  4. Joe
    Our solution to getting parents of Older students to attend has been to build their partcipation into an opening and closing session for the Jr. High schedule. Parents are asked to attend the first and last class of the year with their child during which we do a variety of activities that look ahead to or summarize what we did during the year. For example this year with oour students focusing on the Person of Jesus and the Gospels we began by displaying pictures of Jesus from various cultures, depicting various scripture stories. Then asked everyone to look at all the pictures and stand by the one that was most like their image of Jesus. They then shared with the others who had made the same choice and with he whole Group what that art work told them about who Jesus was. Then We did a few games that students and parents played with and against eachother that were designed to help them learn more about Jesus, followed by some reflection questions. Towards the end I gave them a brief overview of what they would be covering during the year and then finally we prayed the litany of the Holy Name of Jesus together.
    Throughout the evening students sit with their parents and their friends and their friends parents which seems to take some of the pressure off and offer everyone. Kids and parents alike seem to need that peer support.
    In the evaluations we almost always get comments like I didn’t think I would like this but we enjoyed it. It was cool to see one comment this year from a kid who said how awesome his mom ” I didn’t know she knew all that God stuff” Accross the board parents had possative comments about their the depth of their children’s spirituality, as if it was a big discovery. We have about 75 – 80 % partcipation in these gatherings which I see as a success. One parent who had avoided attending last year told me at the begining of this year that they had come because her sons friend had told her how enjoyable it was.
    My whole goal is to model for families ways that they can continue to have faith based conversations, give them experiences that proove that discussing faith doesn’t have to be boaring and that it can connect to their everyday lives.
    When I send the invitations to these gatheings and talk to parents when they have questions about them. I am constantly reminding them that this is the time in their children’s lives when it is becoming more and more important that they maintain the open lines of communication they built when their children were younger. I also try to remind them of the importantce of their voices and values being heard in their child’s life as they face the challenging choices kids make as teens.
    P.S. Personally I am concerned that most publishers cut the parent pages and other tools for communicating from their Jr. High programs. It is all built right into every 1-6 programs. But once they get to the Jr. High level they drop it. When I challenged the sales rep from the publisher I use (and Love) on the issue I was told basically that they had so much more content to put in that they had to cut something because of the expanded content and they believed parents weren’t interested in that type of thing by the time the students got to Jr. High level so that was what they cut. Saddly I believe that it has become a self fulfilling prophesy.

  5. Maura, thanks so much for your excellent input. I love your creative and prayerful approach to inviting parents to talk about their image of Jesus. Structuring your schedule in such a way as to make the first and last sessions family events sounds like a very effective strategy. How often I hear that, when folks finally DO attend experiences like this, they comment about how much they enjoy it and how much they learned.

    Good and accurate comment about publishers cutting parent materials from Junior High texts. This is a real problem.

  6. Once you have been in ministry a number of years, you watch the cycles happen. Family formation in a variety of methods has come, gone, and come again and the same can be said of many of the other wonderful opportunities that are presented.

    It has been puzzling me lately. Are we headed in the right direction again? Putting so much time and effort into the intergenerational, seeking to pull people in with a variety of interesting venues, or should we be be concentrating more on getting people to attend the Mass and other “holy” moments of prayer. (I know that even a walk in the park and a meal together can truly be holy.)

    It is such a balancing act. Is it the human condition that we get so focused? So often it appears that formation is intent on having parents come to their children’s formation, that we have numbers at the events, that we then have to put Mass attendance and weaving our Catholic practices, traditions and teachings into everyday life onto the back burner. How can we continue to keep relationship a priority? Bringing people into relationship with Christ and each other is our centering goal and sometimes we just seem busy!

  7. RB, you raise some interesting questions and make some insightful remarks. I think that those who are very much into intergenerational catechesis would say that their overriding task is to encourage parents and families to attend Mass. The intergnerational events are purposely designed to be tied to liturgical feasts for that reason. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I teach in a five day school but several years ago, I got my “arm twisted” to help in this area as I was also on the parish pastoral council at the time. While the Wed. night students were in class we had a three-four week session on the mass using a Loyola Press video for the parents. The kids were in class for about 90 minutes and the parent session lasted 70 minutes with discussion and treats in a nearby room. Remember it isn’t really a “Catholic event” if food is not involved!

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