It is estimated that there are about 500,000 volunteer catechists in the United States and that, each year, one-third of them—150,000—”turn over.” I’m sure that sometimes it feels like all 150,000 catechists who leave are from your parish! The truth is, it takes a lot of hard work to retain catechists. In her new book, Cultivating Your Catechists: How to Recruit, Encourage, and Retain Successful Catechists, Jayne Ragasa-Mondoy shares four principles for retaining catechists.
- Match people to their abilities, not to your needs, allowing catechists to feel they’re contributing according to their gifts. Some are more comfortable with little ones, some with adults, and others may enjoy adolescents or teens. Provide the resources necessary that “speak” to their learners in age-appropriate ways.
- Ask a parent to form a core prayer group to organize a prayer chain for your catechists and the children. Each week a family or parishioner will commit to pray for the catechists, the children, and their families. Prayer is always essential, particularly for those preparing to receive the sacraments.
- Provide a mentor for your catechists. This is especially important for young adult-catechists or those who have less than a year or two of experience.
- Speak with your pastor to discuss the priority issues of the catechetical program, and request that these issues be reflected in the overall parish pastoral plan. Resource allocation aligns with these very public priorities. These may include
- Providing adequate teaching resources
- Providing catechist-retreat resources
- Financing professional-development opportunities that take place out of state/region.
- Know the needs of your catechists, and provide workshops to help them grow in their ministry. For example, we discovered that several catechists had an interest in holding sacramental preparation sessions for children with special needs. We provided training for this, and we are now able to serve more of God’s children.
- With the pastor, create a family atmosphere by greeting catechists warmly—be happy to see them! Provide regular feedback, and thank them often.
- When classes are in session, make yourself available to deal with major student-behavior issues should they arise. This frees catechists to focus on teaching, which they really appreciate.
- Get to know the catechetical leaders from your neighboring parishes. Plan a combined retreat for young people (perhaps prior to Confirmation or receiving First Holy Communion) or for entire families. Collaborating connects us to the greater Christian community, distributes the workload, and allows catechists to serve and pray side by side.
- Form catechist teams in grade-level clusters (such as pre- and regular kindergarten, grades 1 and 2, grades 3 and 4, etc.). Provide opportunities for them to discuss and plan lessons together. Not only is it more enjoyable, but also there will be greater consistency across the grade levels.
- Invite mature teens to be classroom aides.
- If you share classroom space with the parish Catholic school, arrange for the teacher and catechist who share a classroom to meet and pray with each other. Have students write notes of prayer and thanksgiving to each other. Inspire them to realize that the Holy Spirit is truly alive, moving within the classroom walls and through each of them.
- Encourage catechists to participate in parish events, helping them to connect with parishioners who are not involved in the catechetical program.
- Establish a volunteer “hierarchy” in which a catechist has an opportunity to advance over time. Each level allows for more self-direction and responsibility, which makes it feel like a “promotion.” Examples of catechist levels: Assistant, Lead, Mentor, grade-level or grade-cluster Coordinator.
- During the Easter season hold a prayer service for your catechists with a theme of affirmation. Provide a candle to each. Let them walk around the room saying a word/phrase of affirmation to their fellow catechists. This can be a powerful and bonding experience.
- Hold the affirmation prayer service with parents. Catechists and parents will have an opportunity to affirm each other.
- Work with your pastor to schedule his visits to the classrooms or at special events. Catechists know that pastors have busy schedules and appreciate their presence.
- On your catechist’s Baptism anniversary (or birthday), have students write notes of appreciation to their catechist.
- When you hold meetings, provide a light meal or snack and beverage. Thoughtful hospitality shows your catechists that you appreciate them.
- Hold “Coffee with Your Pastor” sessions with parents. During those sessions you will hear about the ways your catechists make a difference in the lives of the children. Sharing those stories with the catechists is a very affirming experience.
- Organize a celebratory gathering once or twice a year.
Give Public Recognition
- Celebrate Catechetical Sunday, traditionally celebrated on the third Sunday in September—a day on which parishes publicly recognize, pray for, and commission catechists before the assembly using the excellent resources provided by the USCCB. Parents are also recognized for their important role in forming their children in faith. While recognizing catechists within the community is important, highlight their spirit of volunteerism to the greater community as well. Catechetical Sunday resources are available at www.usccb.org.
- Regularly include program highlights in the diocesan newspaper or, when appropriate, in the secular newspaper. Share your stories to demonstrate how the students and their families are engaged in the life of the parish through the catechetical program.
- Feature captioned photos on the parish website, Facebook page, or Twitter account—be sure an image-release statement is included in your handbook and signed by anyone who is the subject of a photograph.
For more about how to cultivate catechists, check out Jayne’s book, Cultivating Your Catechists: How to Recruit, Encourage, and Retain Successful Catechists. The book, excerpted above, is part of the new and exciting series from Loyola Press and NCCL: The Effective Catechetical Leader.