We human beings tend to be resistant to change. Our brains are wired in such a way as to take the path of least resistance, which means that the brain likes to develop habits and routines and stick with them. The longer we’ve been practicing a certain habit or behavior, the more difficult it is for the brain to change.
When it comes to children’s faith formation, we have developed some practices and habits over many decades—and not all of them are good habits. Most notably, we have conditioned parents to act as chauffeurs, dropping off their kids at religious education so that the parish can teach the faith while the parents go shopping, get a cup of coffee, or take a much-needed nap. That is not a criticism of parents—I would do the same thing! The problem is, this drop-off mentality no longer works in today’s world the way it did when Catholics lived in more sheltered, homogeneous, and insular communities. It is for this reason that many parishes are searching for alternative models for catechesis, not the least of which is family catechesis, which I have posted about here previously and highly advocate.
Before you move too quickly in making changes, however, keep in mind what I said above about humans not being receptive to change. We have spent decades reinforcing behaviors around children’s faith formation that ask little of the parents. To suddenly shift to a new model that puts most of the responsibility on the parents will cause whiplash! So, while I advocate for this model, I urge you to proceed with caution.
- While they continued with their traditional program, they began informing parents that they were seeking to switch to a new model. They held meetings and provided literature explaining the thinking behind the family catechesis model and began answering questions.
- In February and March of that same year, they ran a pilot of the new model, setting aside the traditional format and going with the new format for two months, providing more support and soliciting feedback.
- After the pilot months, they did an official feedback and evaluation process and came to the conclusion that there was sufficient support to move forward.
- They provided information about neighboring parishes with the more traditional format, knowing that some people would not want to shift to the new family model. Parish leaders did not want them to leave the Church but invited them to find another parish in those cases. (They expected a 10% hit in enrollment that never materialized.)
- Over the summer, they continued to prepare parents for the new model.
- In the fall of the following year, they implemented the new format with a kick-off meeting that once again reviewed all of the thinking behind a family catechesis format and reassurance to parents that they would indeed be capable of assuming this role with their children.
Because of their cautious approach, they ended up not only not losing enrollment, but increasing by 10%, because word got out that they were doing something unique and thoughtful.
If you are considering moving to a family catechesis model, by all means, do so, but take the time to prepare your parents and help them to open up to the new habit of truly becoming their child’s primary educators in the faith.