Digging for the Secret to Adult Faith Formation Success: Al Capone’s Vault

As regular readers know, this past year, I dedicated my time and efforts to working in the area of adult faith formation, and I’ve discovered many ideas and strategies along the way, and we’ve had some marvelous discussions about some of these.

One thing I had hoped for more success in was discovering the keys to getting adults to respond to/attend adult faith formation offerings. In that area, I must admit, I feel like Geraldo Rivera promising to reveal the secrets of Al Capone’s vault and coming up empty! I’m glad my efforts were not being broadcast on national television!

On several occasions, we tried inviting adults—specifically parents of children in R.E.—to attend adult formation opportunities while the children were attending class. We made the time convenient, we offered pizza, we had inviting topics and an engaging format, we publicized, and in the end, we had as much success as Geraldo did! Suffice it to say, I will not be writing a book soon about the secrets to getting adults to attend faith formation opportunities. Overall, there is no magic wand.

That’s not to say that many folks are not experiencing success. I posted about the wonderful success that a parish in New Lennox, IL is experiencing; however, that is a format in which parents are required to attend. I was amazed and delighted (as well as green with envy!) when my colleague Martin Lopez shared this picture of a parish in Alamo, TX, of a room full of parents attending non-mandatory faith formation sessions while their kids attended classes. (Actually, Martin says they are required to attend two sessions, but they just keep coming week after week.)

Alamo TX

So how do they do it? I believe it takes years of building a culture that says, “adults come first!” It requires nothing less than the re-education of the entire parish community. It requires building on small successes and relentlessly offering opportunities. That takes hard work and is not something that can be accomplished simply by offering an event with pizza once or twice and then wondering why no one shows up.

What are your thoughts about keys to getting adults to respond to/attend adult faith formation opportunities?

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. Hi Joe! I continue to follow your posts on Catechists Journey because, I, too, am driven to discover what makes parents attend, even while their children are in class. This year, I “encouraged” my parents to attend a Unit Overview at the beginning of each Finding God Unit for Grades 1-5. The best attendance I had was 25 out of a possible 100 parents. But, then, I recorded every session and put it on our website, so parents could listen to it at their leisure. The purpose was to begin faith conversations at home, and also educate the parents. My survey showed that 70% out of 80 that answered, found this to be helpful. Next year, I would like to “require” the parents to come, again, once per unit, but have speakers instead of me doing the talking. I know that one solution would be childcare, which is a must! But, beyond that, given the power of sports coaches in our area, I draw a blank, also. It’s sad because the parents seem honestly interested, but are pulled by coaches to get their children to multiple practices per week. If one has three children, that’s tough. As long as sports are so competitive in this area, we face a great challenge during the week and on Sundays. I just keep praying for inspiration! Peace to all.

    • Judy, thanks so much for sharing your experience. 25% is actually pretty darn good! That’s a great level upon which to build. I like your idea of presenters or at least facilitators for next year to keep things fresh. Keep up the great work!

  2. Dear Joe,
    A precedent has been in place here at St. Teresa’s that ‘expects’ parents to attend an adult session specifically designed for them, while their children attend grade level classes. By investing in their own faith formation, parents model the all-important message to their kids that this is a priority and something that doesn’t end at Confirmation.

    To that end, a significant amount of effort has gone into helping build an ‘adult faith’ that nurtures Catholic spirituality, and connects them to the communal and worship life of the parish. Our philosophy takes seriously their role as the primary educators of faith and the need to equip and support them as domestic church. By no means is this a stream lined process free of complications, and while we still have too many examples of ‘non-invested’ parents, they all know that their session will always combine quality prayer, solid presenters, interactive dialogue, humor, and leave them stretched in ways they may not have considered.
    While we only meet once a month on Sunday mornings (on the Valparaiso University Campus) we are developing an online curriculum/process that will both challenge and empower parents to assume a more direct, catechetical role between our monthly GIFT sessions. In an ideal world, knowing the responsibility that comes with teaching the material to their kids, they will also learn it!

    The beauty and grace of our parent GIFT sessions this year has been the emergence of a vibrant community of adults and parents whose faith is taking on new purpose and meaning, and bolstered by the assurance that they are not going it alone! In the end, we create the opportunity and the Holy Spirit takes it from there.
    Blessings and thanks for your ministry and the positive energy you pass on to us!
    In Christ,
    Steve Weigand

    • Steve, thanks so much for your thorough description of St. Teresa’s approach to adult catechesis. It sounds like a very effective approach that is gradually making an impact. I love that you are developing an online component to assist parents…how practical! Thanks again for sharing…it’s good to know of another source to go to who can share from tried and true experience.

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