What Parishes Are Doing to Equip People with Knowledge of the Faith

hands of adults and child holding cross - sharing faith

Thanks to so many of you for responding to my request to send in descriptions of what your parish is doing to help people grow in the first of the Six Tasks of Catechesis: Knowledge of the Faith. Here is a brief summary of what some folks are doing:

  • Ladies’ faith-sharing group (meets three times monthly to discuss Scripture)
  • Weekly Scripture study (some on the Sunday Scripture readings; some on books of the Bible; some Lectio Divina)
  • Lenten evening discussions (Emmaus Journey)
  • Online learning initiatives such as Symbolon
  • Experiences in traditional Christian art forms (facilitated by local artists)
  • Theology portion of Echoes of Faith
  • Adult sessions while children are in religious education classes
  • The Alpha Program
  • Christ Renews His Parish
  • Intergenerational models

What else are you doing to help people grow in knowledge of the faith?

My ongoing concern is that we tend to summarize our adult faith formation efforts by what it is we are offering. While many of those offerings are of high quality and require great time and effort by pastoral staff, they are only reaching a handful of people. A few of the suggestions above are reaching larger audiences. We need to pay better attention to (and design opportunities for) the “end-user” (as they say in marketing circles)—the people we desire to avail themselves of the resources we offer. Some of these people are in our pews weekly. Many are present occasionally while still others are rarely present and yet affiliated (i.e. have children in the school or religious education program). We can’t keep “preaching to the choir”—we need to identify strategies for reaching people we are otherwise missing.

About Joe Paprocki 2742 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 www.catechistsjourney.com.


  1. We used offer most of our faith-sharing programs during Lent as part of a “Follow Me” initiative which was started in our parish several years ago. We have now moved to offering many adult faith formation and faith-sharing programs/series, beginning in the Fall as well. Participation has increased and we have also been able to increase the number of folks willing to facilitate the programs.

    We have also added two new programs which have sort of a fresh approach and which seem to be reaching many folks “not in the choir.” “Discovering Christ” (12-week series), which then follows onto “Following Christ” and closes with “Sharing Christ,” and also “A Catholic’s Divorce Survival series.”

    Last, this past year we implemented Family Faith Formation as part of our Religious Education program. Parents are now asked to attend with their children 3 Family Faith Formation sessions during the “school year.”

    It is our hope and prayer to continue engaging more people into our faith and to a journey of discipleship.

    • Christina, I love the discipleship model of discovering Christ, Following Christ, and Sharing Christ. Do you use a “boxed” program for the courses or is it something your parish created on its own? I’d love to see an outline of the topics for each week of each course if you are willing to share.

  2. Last year our priest invited parishioners who wanted a “refresher course in the faith” to join the RCIA program. It was a great success. Long time Catholics were often amazed at what they were learning or relearning; and those RCIA candidates/catechumens were equally amazed that Catholics still wanted to keep learning about their faith. We extended the invitation again this year and it is once again, working out well.

    • I think it is a laudable goal to provide a process for Catholics to refresh their faith, but the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, if it is being implemented according the principles of the rite itself, is not a good vehicle for this. It is true that in many parishes the RCIA is structured as a series of adult religious education classes. Catholics would certainly benefit from such a series. However, the catechumens are then often shortchanged.

      I think there are a couple of reasons the RCIA becomes a religious education series in some places. First, we fail to take seriously that rite’s mandate that this is a training (an apprenticeship) in Christian life (see RCIA 75 and The Church’s Decree on Missionary Activity 14). Catholics and many baptized candidates are already living a Christian life and therefore do not need an apprenticeship. In places were the RCIA truly is an apprenticeship process, Catholic parishioners are, by their example, the teachers of the faith and not apprentices. We certainly want to have refresher processes to help parishioners become better examples of how to live the faith, but we cannot mistake them for or treat them like beginners.

      Another reason the RCIA becomes a religious education series in some places is that we fail to understand the depth of meaning in the word “catechesis.” We all use the same word to mean several different things. The General Directory for Catechesis tells us there are three levels of catechesis:
      1. Primary proclamation
      2. Initiatory catechesis
      3. Ongoing catechesis

      Ideally, the RCIA would focus only on the first two levels (see this article for more on the three levels: http://teamrcia.com/2012/04/is-your-rcia-team-catechizing-at-all-the-levels-the-church-expects/). However, what more often happens in some parishes is that the RCIA is almost completely focused on the third level. Catechumens and some uncatechized candidates simply are not ready for third-level catechesis. St. Paul told those that he evangelized that when they were new to the faith, he give them milk, not solid food, because they were not yet ready for it (see 1 Cor. 3:2). If we give the catechumens solid food before they are ready for it, we risk doing more harm than good.

      I have heard RCIA teams say that everyone in their RCIA process, no matter what their level of faith, benefits from the classes that take place. I don’t doubt that this is true. What I wonder, however, is where are those who have no faith or barely have faith? What process do we have for them? How are we reaching out to them and caring for them? How are we gradually, gently, introducing them to Jesus and to Christian life?

      If we do not have any of those people in our parishes or in our RCIA processes, we might take a cue from Pope Francis and go out and look for them. Maybe that is what our Catholic refresher courses should focus on — how to go out into the world to tell others about Jesus.

    • Thanks for sharing Mary and I’m glad people are benefitting from this approach. I am also aware of some concerns with making the RCIA an adult ed refresher course so I asked my friend and RCIA expert Nick Wagner to offer his thoughts which he kindly did. Feel free to contact him to discuss this further.

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