In my work, I do a lot of traveling—most of it in the air—and as anyone who flies knows, viewing the world from 30,000 feet provides one with a different perspective! One of the responsibilities of catechetical leaders is to call people to step “back from the specific issues that need attention (‘Should we add an additional hall monitor?’ or ‘Do we want to explore a different text series for junior high next year?’), and look at things from ten thousand feet . . . or even thirty thousand feet!” (Tom Quinlan, Excellence in Ministry, The Effective Catechetical Leader series)
In other words, it is important to get a wider perspective and to plan, not just for the short term but for the long term. This is especially critical if you hope to implement significant shifts in your catechetical program, such as switching from a traditional classroom model to a family catechesis model. Such a shift is no small change; it is a paradigm shift, a way of looking at things from a whole different perspective. Such a shift is nothing short of behavior change, which is hard enough to pull off with an individual, let alone an entire community of people!
Long-term planning begins with recognizing that the goals you hope to achieve may take several years, beginning with small steps in the present. In his book Leading Change, John P. Kotter identifies eight key elements for implementing major change over a long term. Permit me to illustrate how these eight elements apply to making significant changes in a catechetical environment.
- Establish a sense of urgency. We have ample evidence that the traditional classroom model for catechesis is not as effective as it once was and, in many cases, is failing us. To establish a sense of urgency, one needs only cite current statistics; we are facing a crisis!
- Create a guiding coalition. If the major change is seen only as “your baby,” it won’t stand a chance. The most critical step is forming a coalition of people who buy into your vision. This means putting together a catechetical advisory board to assist in leading the change.
- Develop a vision and a strategy. A vision statement is a description of a hoped-for reality. It is not enough to say, “We’re switching to a family catechesis model.” That’s a strategy, and while strategy is crucial, it needs to be preceded by a vision. A vision statement states something bold, such as, “Within three to five years, we will create a new culture at our parish that places families at the center of faith formation and empowers parents to truly be the primary catechists of their children.”
- Communicate the change vision. The catechetical leader must use every tool imaginable to communicate the new vision: parent meetings, parent newsletters, bulletins, parish website, social media platforms, and so on. All such communication should emphasize that this change is being led by the guiding coalition described in #2 above.
- Empower broad-based action. When companies face shifting realities, they often must retrain their employees. A big part of implementing a paradigm shift, such as switching to family catechesis, requires that catechetical leaders “retrain” parents to embrace their role as the primary educators of their children. It is not enough just to tell them this; the catechetical leader must provide formation that enables parents to embrace this role.
- Generate short-term wins. In one parish that made the move from the traditional classroom model to family catechesis, the catechetical leader wisely implemented a pilot period of two months during which the new model was tested a year before the hoped-for transition to the new model. In doing so, he was able to demonstrate the work-ability of the new model and to help parents celebrate their “win” of leading their children’s faith formation.
- Consolidate gains and produce more change. The pilot program described in #6 provides the catechetical leader with the opportunity to enlist more endorsements for the paradigm shift while developing strategies for responding to naysayers. The goal is to continually grow the bandwagon of people in support of the new model.
- Anchor new approaches in the culture. Only after all of the above have been achieved is the catechetical leader ready to take the next steps of presenting the new model or paradigm as the norm going forward. This will require changing the way the faith formation program is described in every venue: handbook, website, parish bulletin, and so on. It also may require new faces and voices to be highlighted in key leadership positions in the catechetical program (e.g. new advisory board members, new team leaders, or associate directors).
Change is never easy! Remember how much work we all put in to implementing the Roman Missal changes some years ago? That same kind of attention to detail and retraining is required for leading any form of significant paradigm shift or program change—even more so when people’s personal faith is involved!
It takes time for an airplane to climb to 30,000 feet. We need to take our time when inviting people to see things from a whole new perspective.