Do We Need a Different Kind of Catechist for Family Faith Formation?

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As the catechetical landscape continues to shift and more faith communities are exploring and implementing various catechetical models—especially family catechesis models—it begs the question: Do we need to find a different kind of catechist for family faith formation?

The answer is “Yes” and “No.”

Let’s start with the “No.” Obviously, we still need people who are well-formed in their Catholic faith, who have a passion and desire for sharing God’s Word, and who possess good communication skills. That hasn’t changed.

So, what is different? More than ever, we need people who can think outside the box of a classroom model and more in line with a small faith group model. A catechist for family faith formation should be less of a teacher and more of a facilitator and companion. I would argue that all catechists should be moving away from classroom models; however, this is more urgent when it comes to family faith formation. Families are not being asked to “attend class” together! Rather, we are inviting them to have an experience of sharing faith and encountering God’s grace in their own domestic church, and it is the role of the catechist to support and empower parents to make this a reality and to engage children within the context of family.

Where do we find people who are equipped to handle this role? Pretty much in the same places where we look for any catechist: within the local faith community and the various gatherings and ministries of that faith community. Perhaps, however, our focus will be adjusted so that we are searching for people who are very much in tune with family life and the domestic church, namely, parents (those with young children as well as those with grown children) and grandparents.

I can’t help but think of the following quote from Tom Quinlan’s book, Excellence in Ministry: Best Practices for Successful Catechetical Leadership (part of the Effective Catechetical Leader series): “Faith-formation ministry needs to be not so much about catechizing children as about evangelizing households.” The catechist that we need is someone who embraces and embodies this vision!

I’d love to hear from those of you who are using family faith formation models. Do you find that you are looking for a different kind of catechist? How so? Where are you finding people to serve as catechists in your family faith formation model? Please share your comments in the “Leave a Reply” space below.

About Joe Paprocki 2646 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.

23 Comments on Do We Need a Different Kind of Catechist for Family Faith Formation?

  1. Thank you for this insight. We are rebuilding our Catechetical Team post-COVID, and thinking about who would be a good fit. Much appreciated!

  2. Joe,
    Peace to you! I find that we need to continue to find ways to involve parents and families. I’ve really put that into action for the last 8 years at my parish. However, I continue to talk to parents about family catechesis. What I’m finding is that many families still see a real value with weekly classes (our parish offers both). I worry that as the pendulum swings towards Family Catechis/Family Programming/Experiences with families and kids together we are going to “leave out” many people who are living faith in the home but know their own limitations of forming their children specific teachings of the Faith. Yes we need to equip parents to engage children in their homes with the Faith, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we stop having them come to the parish for formation. I also worry that the “faith experiences” that many are moving towards has great value but lacks a more complete age level catechesis. If we go too much to “faith experiences with families” but too light on properly communicating the foundational teachings of our Faith then we will end up at a place we don’t want to be. Just some thoughts. I do think there is real value in catechists leading in a small group model context even if that means they meet in a traditional classroom with an adjusted setting). I continue to grow and discern how to best transmit the faith to parents and children in today’s landscape.

    • I had some of the same worries, but I’m finding that the vast majority of parents and families do not practice faith, and without the requirement of family catechesis, the families would drop off the kids at class and leave, not attend Mass, and that would be it. Their example to the kids would be one of “this is all optional.” Without direct parental involvement, the kids don’t stand a chance in having good role models of true discipleship. And our goal is forming disciples, adults and children.

    • Hi William! So good to hear from you! I hope and pray that you and your family are doing well. Thanks so much for sharing what you and your faith community have been doing over the last 8 years. I agree with you that family catechesis should have a strong parish connection so that we continue to build a strong sense of community which is so central to our identity as the Mystical Body of Christ and the People of God!

  3. Hi,

    I am a classroom catechist but I participated in a family faith formation when my kids were school aged. Truly a great experience. However when I teach now I see busy parents trying to give their children some Faith. Not sure people would take the time. I hope & pray I am wrong!! I think my church has both options.

  4. Yes! Actually, this is a new conversation we’re beginning across our Pastorate (which is also new). The conversation of developing and growing this family faith formation models feels so multi-faceted. And, yes, I agree, that I, too, have considered the idea of the catechist developing skills as a facilitator of a small group. As a matter of fact, I’ll be sending this article to Pastorate colleagues to bring to further discussion and prayer.

    • Thanks Susan, especially for encouraging further discussion and prayer on this topic within your pastorate. Please do inform us here at Catechist’s Journey of developments!

  5. I have used the idea of Family Catechesis since meeting with Kathleen Chesto in 1991. I look for some one who is able to involve children and parents in the lesson through conversation and activity. I have a catechist couple who continues in that ministry in the parish I left behind. Their openess to family Catechesis allowed a family to come with their two children, one that who had special needs.

    • Thanks for sharing, Eileen. I remember Kathleen Chesto – a champion of family catechesis before it became a “buzz word” in catechetical circles!

  6. Hello Joe and all!

    I’d like to also encourage parishes with Catholic schools to explore how this necessary and beautiful shift can also benefit families in our Catholic schools. This can be a challenging effort…but also a most worthy one. As we continue to figure out how to pivot to models of formation that affirm parents and bless families, let’s be sure to work to bring our schools into the fold!

    Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful efforts that are ongoing across our nation and beyond. The renewal of catechesis to become more evangelizing is a messy and beautiful process that the Holy Spirit wants to bless! Do not fear, but rather pray “Come, Holy Spirit.”

    • That is wonderful, thank you. Schools and churches need to work together to provide these formats and work in unity.

    • Hi Tom and thanks for sharing your wisdom and for the reminder to pay attention to families in our Catholic schools! There can still be a temptation in the Catholic school scenario to rely on the “drop off” mentality for parents, especially when they know that they are paying tuition for the school to provide a Catholic education, they can be tempted to wonder why on earth they need to be involved in their child’s faith formation. That’s not a knock on parents of children in Catholic schools…it’s an attitude that the system itself fostered over many decades. Thanks, Tom, for always being a champion of parents and families in evangelization and catechesis!

  7. We started using the Loyola Family Faith program this past year. I chose different catechists for each of the nights. These came from my own experience with great speakers, parents I knew who home-schooled for catechesis, and from suggestions from our priest. These were not our youth catechists, since those people left with the children to go to their classes.

    All did a wonderful job leading the family faith nights, each in their unique way. I tried to tell each leader to remember they are helping provide ideas and resources parents can use at home–they were not simply teaching the subject.

    We had only a small percentage of our parents stay each family faith night, but hope we grow more next year.

    • Thanks, Carol, for sharing your experience of family catechesis and the role that catechists are playing in its development!

  8. I am a catechist and I believe that asking for parents to visit our classes might get them more involved, not for every class but 3 times during the class meetings it might get parents and children to appreciate the true value of them to let the children know that parents do care about their family.

    • Thanks, Bernadette. I think that’s a great idea. I would push it even further to make sure that those visits don’t place parents solely in the role of spectator, but as participants with their children in various activities, prayers, and projects!

  9. Hello Joe and everyone!
    I have been reading the comments and they are very heartening!
    I am in a parish with a great pastor – I know you know him Joe, Father David Loftus – and we have been doing our Families of Faith for about 7 years now. We have a “blended” model -in parish and at home. We intentionally chose to have our in parish sessions (every other week) on Sunday mornings. We offer two times that correspond with our Mass times so families can choose to go to Mass first, and then come over, or come to our session and then go to Mass. We begin each in-parish session (after 7 years everyone is referring to sessions, not classes) with all the families together. We do something together for about 20 minutes, song, activity, reflection on the Sunday Gospel often led by one of the families. Then the children go to their respective groups with their “faith leaders.” They have an hour, and the adults have an hour together. We help prepare them for the “at home sessions” they lead for their children on the weeks they are not here (except for Mass), but we also have adult sharing – small groups and large. As we started to come out of the pandemic, the parents expressed “we really helped each other get through this time!” They have shared the pain of miscarriage, of deaths in the family during Covid, parents beginning to show signs of dementia, as well of the joys of seeing their children’s growth. Most recently we were sharing on hopes and fears for our children. It broke my heart to hear one of the dads say, “Every day I wonder when I drop my son off at school if this will be the last day I see him alive.”
    School shootings, abuse from all sides, bullying…. and then they talk about how their faith helps in all of this and how they are trying to give their children faith to uphold them in times of difficulties and “scary things” like the Ukraine.

    Fortunately I have wonderful catechists who were already seeing the need to change, and have made the move from drop-off catechesis smoothly.

    My role in it is mostly, as one of the moms asked “be our cheerleader, Sister, no one tells us we’re doing a good job being parents.”

    We are now beginning, as parish and school leadership, to start attending to the school parents more and not just the children. It is very challenging, both because their is a deeply entrenched culture in the school(s) that is very different from ours, plus logistical challenges as we try to bring the families together.

    Next will come the “overhaul” of Confirmation preparation.

    I know this is a long comment; I am just so blest to be part of this and must admit to the sin of pride in all that has happened and will continue to happen.

    • Thanks so much, Sr. Frances, for sharing the story of faith formation at your parish and how it is growing and adapting to meet the changing needs of families. Indeed, I know your pastor, Fr. David Loftus, very well! Please say HI to him and may the Holy Spirit continue to shower abundant blessings on him, you, and your faith community!

  10. We are in our 9th year of Family Faith Formation and I continue to feel it is the best change we have made. I strongly believe that forming the children in their faith has to be a joint venture with the parents/caregivers. Tom’s quote says it so well “Faith-formation ministry needs to be not so much about catechizing children as about evangelizing households.” And your comment Joe, reinforces this: “Families are not being asked to “attend class” together! Rather, we are inviting them to have an experience of sharing faith and encountering God’s grace in their own domestic church,”
    In our family model they attend one monthly session on site and we provide them with materials to do another two sessions at home (similar to Sister Kennedy). The onsite sessions begin with a 30 minute family activity followed by an hour of age-based formation. Catechists lead the children’s grade-level sessions and guest speakers come to lead the parent sessions.
    As for catechists, I have found that there was not much that had to be adjusted for their role with the children. Where I do find a challenge is in recruiting facilitators for the parents who can engage them the way the that Sister Kennedy has – creating a supportive sense of community.
    Thank you, Joe, for your words on the type of catechist needed for this model.

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