Many catechetical leaders are familiar with the struggle of trying to find catechists at the last minute and begging parishioners for help. We have all heard the horror stories of people who tentatively volunteered and two weeks later found themselves standing in front of a room full of students, unsure of themselves and wondering how they ended up in this position.
If our catechists are the backbone of our faith formation programs, then recruiting and retaining catechists needs to be a top priority. Finding catechists who are evangelizers and see themselves as such is the key to a faith formation process that forms disciples. In recruiting and retaining catechists who evangelize, I want to share with you five aspects of the process using the word GIFTS:
Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi remarked that, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, or if he listens to teachers, he does so because they are witnesses.” Seek out catechists who are first disciples and exhibit a genuine or authentic spirit about their faith. A personal invitation to those who have gone through an evangelizing process would be a great place to begin looking for new catechists.
The “who” of our faith (Jesus Christ) is the reason behind our faith formation classes. An evangelizing catechetical program inspires students to grow in relationship with Jesus Christ and his body, the Church. “What we especially need in these times are credible witnesses who make the Gospel visible by their lives as well as by their words, and who reawaken the attraction for Jesus Christ, for the beauty of God,” remarked Pope Francis (Address to the Plenary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, October 14, 2013). There are a plethora of methodologies that can help us become better teachers, but catechists inspire and form their students through modeling, mentoring, and witness.
Forming your catechists into disciples is tremendously important. Treat your team of catechists like a small Christian community that helps them grow in faith together so that they can pass along their faith to others. In addition to gathering your catechists through the year for in-service training, consider reading a book together and discussing it. Formation can be both formal and informal; make a point of finding out the specific areas in which your catechists would like to grow, and tailor their formation accordingly. Meeting “one-on-one” and compiling individualized resources for each catechist in a specific area of the Church’s teaching is a way to nurture and encourage each catechist in his or her own gifts.
There is an expression that all relationships move “at the speed of trust.” Our efforts at forming disciples will only be fruitful if our catechists have trust and confidence in us and in our approach. Build trust with your catechists by listening attentively to them, seeking their input, and ensuring that they are a part of important conversations. Spend time with your catechists outside of the parish. Take them out for coffee, remember their birthdays, and celebrate their joys and sorrows.
Provide ongoing support to your catechists individually and as a team. Be sure to show them your appreciation in word and deed. Building relationships that last is the key to catechists who are successful and confident in the classroom. When catechists feel supported, they will model that support for their students.
Do you have ideas for recruiting and retaining catechists who evangelize? Share your ideas with us!
Once you’ve recruited your catechists, give them a textbook program that fully supports them.