A catechist friend of mine recently commented that there was a general attitude among parents. She called it the “drag-drive-drop” mentality: parents dragged their children into the car, drove them to the faith formation center, and dropped them off at class! While not true in every parish, the question of how we reach parents who are disengaged or disinterested in their children’s faith formation is becoming an increasingly difficult task for us all.
There are many parents who volunteer and give generously of their time and resources to the parish. Unfortunately, there are a large number of parents who we rarely see beyond the routine parent nights at the beginning and end of the year. As catechists and catechetical leaders it can be frustrating to spend so much time preparing lessons and inviting parents to come into our classes only to be disappointed time and time again.
Here are two simple strategies to help us reach disengaged parents.
Catechize by Stealth (CBS)
Whenever parents are required (or strongly encouraged!) to be present at an event, take great care to be intentional about the format. Make sure the events are invitational, inspirational, and warm. Avoid using these times as simply a means to cover the parent handbook or go over updated policies. Instead, offer a dynamic and engaging prayer experience coupled with small faith sharing, interwoven with an inspirational speaker. Provide timely and practical resources for parents to take home that might engage and pique their curiosity about their faith. Plan for a formative faith experience rather than offering what they would typically encounter at a parent night at their child’s school.
Go Out and Teach
Our programs practice “come in and learn” quite effectively, but we should also remember that Jesus commanded us to “go out and teach.” My friend Margaret visits many of her faith formation families during the summer, dropping off resources for them and offering a small but meaningful gift from the parish. She finds that this is a helpful approach in bridging trust with the families. Families see that faith isn’t just something we “do” once a week; they see that faith is something that permeates our entire lives. This approach echoes the words of Pope Francis—faith should not be the whipped cream on the pie of life but the essential ingredient of a joyful and peaceful life. Faith is integral to all that we say and do. Going out to meet with families at important events is critical. Catechists that show up at homecoming games, for example, seamlessly bridge the gap between faith learning and faith living that can be difficult for our parents to make. Parents are far more likely to come to opportunities at the parish and more likely to respond to what is happening in your classroom when they have a personal relationship with you.
In his homily at the Concluding Mass of World Youth Day 2013, Pope Francis said that the Gospel “is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.” For catechists today, the fringes and margins of our society might just be one or two blocks away from our parishes or our own homes. Reflect upon all the ways that you can reach out to parents at your parish, and make an effort to try one or two new things to bring Christ to them. Jesus commissioned the Apostles to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) A great first step would be to reach out to families who are on the margins of parish life.
What strategies have worked in reaching out to parents at your parish?