Reaching Parents on the Margins of Parish Life

family illustration

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?

About Julianne Stanz 80 Articles
Julianne Stanz is the Director of Outreach for Evangelization and Discipleship at Loyola Press and a consultant to the USCCB Committee on Catechesis and Evangelization. She served previously as Director of Discipleship and Leadership Development for the Diocese of Green Bay. Julianne infuses her talks, retreats, and seminars with humor, passion, and insights from her life in Ireland. A popular speaker, storyteller, and author, Julianne is married with three children and spends her time reading, writing, teaching, and collecting beach glass. She is the author of Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church, Developing Disciples of Christ, Braving the Thin Places, and co-author, with Joe Paprocki, of The Catechist’s Backpack.


  1. Julianne, I love the idea of visiting families. Some of us might be a bit shy about that so I know of some catechetical leaders who invite parents to meet for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, etc. It feels less “Jehovah’s Witness” (ringing doorbells) and more like just a friendly chat but it creates a strong connection.

  2. I love the idea of visiting families too! What a great way to evangelize and welcome our faith formation families. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I agree with you Joe- it can be intimidating to go and visit someone at home. Inviting someone out to meet at a neutral venue can be a great way to break the ice. Popping by someone’s home can be an intimate experience but seeing a family at home can be a very insightful and bonding opportunity. Visiting in pairs (the DRE and catechist for example) can also be a good way to build community amongst faith formation staff.

  4. One other idea- A catechist recently shared with me that she encourages her families to welcome the new families. The family that is new to the parish one year signs up to welcome a new family the following year. Something as simple a strategy as this can make all the difference in building a strong sense of community.

  5. Julianne, great insights, love the concept of taking the church out of the sanctuary and encouraging catechists to make help kids and their parents experience the lived aspects of their faith. Thanks!

  6. I’d love to encourage directors and catechists to begin pondering how tools like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram could provide ways to “connect” families with one another. Perhaps as your families register, ask a question like: Please check the social media tools that you are comfortable with? Then offer choices like: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and any other social media tools that you are aware of. For example, if you know they are FB users, you are able to create a GROUP just for your families. Then involve a small group of parents (who are comfortable with these tools) to be the team to engage parents in conversations or share suggestions for how they can do faith formation at home – perhaps with digital tools.

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