An increasing number of parishes are experimenting with new ways to engage entire families in children’s catechesis. We have long focused almost exclusively on the children in class and not enough on the parents. The realization so many of us have made is that because parents have such a strong influence on the faith formation of a child, we must evangelize and catechize them, too, if we have any hope of making a lasting impact on their children.
Some parishes have completely changed their programs, adopting new models of whole family catechesis. Others feel the need to do something different but may not feel ready to completely replace their programs. If your parish falls in this second category, I recommend that you stick to three essential principles of successful evangelization and catechesis: 1) support the parents, 2) invite them to class and Mass, and 3) equip them with tools to learn and teach the faith themselves.
Support the parents by being there when they need you. Are they going through a difficult time? Be there to listen and show them that they are loved by the Church. Get to know the families on a personal level. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Invite the parents to class and Mass with a lot of reminders. Make sure parents feel welcome by extending invitations to events during class time. Let them know that you will be at Sunday Mass and you hope to see them there. Keep extending those invitations until they start to show up.
Equip the parents with resources to learn and teach. Give them gifts they can use to personally grow closer to Christ and pass on the faith to their children. In many cases, it isn’t that the parents don’t want to teach their kids about the faith; they just don’t have the confidence to teach it.
Here are some specific ways catechetical leaders and catechists can do this.
SUPPORT: Think of emails, phone calls, and hallway conversations with parents as your primary opportunity for ministry. Yes, you will have forms for them to fill out and meetings to attend, but don’t let that be the only thing they think of when they think of you. Ask them questions. Don’t be afraid to get to know them and be there to support them with whatever they are going through in life right now.
INVITE: What events can you host during class time that you can invite the whole family to attend? This might be a special Mass, a living rosary, Penance, or a guest speaker. You may be the best person to tell them about parish events outside of religious education. Invite them to Mass on Sunday and any other formation opportunity the parish offers for adults.
EQUIP: What physical gifts can you give parents that will help them learn and teach faith? This could be books, prayer cards, handouts, CDs, or DVDs. The hope is to build a culture of catechesis in the home by providing tools for the parents to use and share with their children.
SUPPORT: If you see the parents before, after, or outside of class, ask them how things are going. Get to know them by asking lots of questions. Affirm them with compliments about what their child does in class.
INVITE: What special class activities can you prepare for the adults to do with their children? In the younger grades especially, you can plan crafts for them to create with their kids. For the older grades, it could be helpful for parents to come in and lead small group discussions. The key is to extend those invitations often so the parents make plans to attend. Also, I’ll never stop saying this: Invite them to come to Mass. Many times parents don’t bring their children to Mass because they don’t know many people that are there. If they know they will see your familiar face, they will be more likely to show up.
EQUIP: What links to articles or videos could you send the parents of your students that will help them understand what the kids learned about in class? Make a habit of finding these resources and sending them to the parents to read and watch. Give them resources to read the Sunday Gospel together with their children in preparation for the Mass. No matter what form your catechetical programs take, keep these three principles in mind and build personal relationships with parents.
Jared Dees is the founder of TheReligionTeacher.com and the author of Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind, which helps develop lessons that lead students into an encounter with Christ.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, March 2019