Adult Faith: Moving to a Needs-Based Approach

flyer image - Moving from a Doctrinal to a Needs-Based Approach

One of the problems with adult faith formation, as I see it, is our “packaging.” We want our adults to have a good grasp of Church doctrine but the problem is that we present it as…drumroll please…CHURCH DOCTRINE! In other words, our adult faith offerings are most often too “churchy-sounding” to attract a wide or new audience.

Most folks are simply not going to be swayed by topics such as the following:

  • Understanding the Mass
  • A New Look at Church History
  • Revisiting the Sacraments
  • Exploring the Four Pillars of the Catholic Faith

I’m not suggesting that we shy away from teaching doctrine. However, doctrine is not an end in and of itself. Doctrine is supposed to assist us in making sense of the mystery of life and our relationship with God. I suggest, instead, that we take a needs-based approach to our adult faith offerings and then draw from Scripture and Tradition (doctrine) to enrich and enlighten our understanding of how God’s grace is available to guide and assist us in responding to life’s challenges.

So, what kind of topics am I suggesting? Here’s a sampling. (Each of these might be prefaced with something like “Six Steps to…” or “Four Weeks to…”)

  • Celebrating life
  • Getting through difficult times
  • Letting go
  • Coping with change
  • A more heroic life
  • Finding your source of energy
  • Deeper wisdom
  • Discovering courage
  • Reaching out to others
  • A more meaningful life
  • Coming to terms with suffering
  • Becoming a more loving person
  • A more selfless you
  • Learning from failure

Catch my drift? Scripture and Catholic doctrine speak to these realities but, instead of leading with doctrine in the title, we lead with life’s realities.

What are some needs-based titles you can think of for adult faith offerings?

About Joe Paprocki 2739 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 Adult Faith: Moving to a Needs-Based Approach

  1. I sit in on the Parish RCIA each year and the more I understand Church Doctrine,
    the more I am helped with the items on your list! Study the Catechism of the
    Catholic Church and you will find more answers for day to day living than any other resource I have found. When we go to other forms of teaching, we begin to base far too much on “feelings” and that is where we get in more trouble. I suggest that when dicussing anything on the list, you have the Catechism of the Catholic Church right there to keep the focus on the teachings of the Church, that is based on what Jesus taught, the Early Writers of the Church and more. It is also filled
    with the widom of those who have studied Scripture, Oral Tradion, etc., and have
    discussed and reviewed these throughout the past two-thousand years. We really
    need to watch out for relying on our “feelings” and what “we” think and that is what discussions bring about any time we move, “even an inch,” away from Catholic Doctrine.

    • Thanks Kathleen, I couldn’t agree with you more! Every one of the topics on my list is derived from a doctrinal point in the CCC! You’re absolutely right that if you study the CCC, you will find connections to every day living. My suggestion is that we make those connections to daily living and enter through those doors to lead them to the rich doctrines that inform our daily living. A needs-based approach is not to be equated with a “Hey, how’re you feeling today and what do you want to talk about?” approach. It should be deeply grounded in Church Tradition and doctrine but our delivery should not LEAD with doctrine. We should begin our delivery with issues from daily living that can and must be enriched and enlightened by our Tradition. Our “curriculum” for AFF should be carefully planned so that we are exposing people to the richness of the Catechism but the delivery of it should begin with inviting people to reflect on what’s right under their noses – daily lived experience.

  2. I have been doing adult faith formation for the sacraments for 8 years. Each group has different backgrounds, ages and maturity. This year 8 of my 12 students are under 25 and it has been interesting. It took me two months to figure out how to get them to share much less talk about the mystery of life!

    Well, this past weekend when I was in the shower I had an epiphany! How to review about the meaning of Lent and of Lenten practices lesson without being boring! 5 of my students are from the same family plus one member’s fiancée. So I thought of the game show Family Feud! I made notes of different categories such as “The Number 40 in the Bible and it’s meaning !” and “Lent is the time to…” So, I pitted the Garcia Family against the “Other” family. It was great fun, everyone had to participate and gave me insight to what I still needed to explain.

    Once I get them participating, I can get them talking and discussing how Catholicism is a way of life and not a religious denomination. So, the point of this comment is to say “do what works” with the people you have. There is no one formula!

    • Thanks for sharing Harriet. Some of the best ideas occur in the shower, eh? Your idea is great and I’m glad it worked well. I think that, if you have a group that I consider a “captive audience” (preparing for sacraments), it works to lead with doctrinal topics. My suggestion about a needs-based approach is more about how to attract folks who aren’t necessarily darkening our doorways.

  3. Our Faith Formation Council has been discussing how to create and implement adult programs that teach the faith yet appeal across demographics. Your idea is so simple yet genius. I’m always saying we need to reach out to people where they are and that’s exactly what the titles you suggest does! Instruct them in the doctrine of the faith by helping them in their real life struggles and issues. Not just teach the faith, but show them exactly how the faith is applicable. Thank you for making my day!

  4. Hi everyone,

    A while back, I did a Google search of some faith formation sessions that were then being offered in parishes around the country. Here’s what I found:
    1. The Practice of Lectio Divina
    2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Writings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI
    3. Bible Basics
    4. Reflecting on the Bishops’ Letter: Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us
    5. Sacraments in General
    6. Church Ecclesiology
    7. God and Revelation
    8. Men’s CRHP XV Weekend
    9. The Joy of Stewardship

    I reworked the list above to cover the same topics, but from a different slant:
    1. An Ancient Spiritual Practice that Will Change Your Life
    2. The Pope, the New York Times, and the Abuse Scandal: Separating Fact from Fiction
    3. Learn the Ancient Secrets of the Bible—In One Hour
    4. Discover the Key Practices for a Joyful, Passionate Life
    5. Is God In Your Life? How to Know for Sure
    6. How to be Spiritual but Not Religious
    7. Is God Speaking to You? How to Train Your Spiritual Ear
    8. Male Spirituality: The Key to Becoming a Wisdom-Figure for Your Children, Your Wife, and Your Friends
    9. Climate Change: What Is the Christian Response?

    What do you think?

    • This is brilliant, Nick! Exactly what I’m talking about. There’s no fudging on the rock solid content drawn from Scripture and Tradition, but it is packaged in a way that speaks to people’s everyday lives. Thanks for sharing!

  5. This is a great post, and suggests to me what great value of an Adult Faith Formation Committee – to brainstorm life topics that the community needs to explore. And then catechetical ministers (pastoral staff and catechists) can correlate with Church’s wisdom.

    One caveat might be to not get too specific on life topics – for both marketing and ministry, try to draw as many as possible into a shared topic. It’s akin to the liturgy’s general intercessions.

    At the same time, we should be exploring many topics for many different types of people – so this suggests there can not be just one “AFF program” but rather various opportunities to gather, reflect, and grow.

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