7 Essential Steps For Converting First Communion Parents

first-communion-parents

I’m about to embark on a daring endeavor.

I’m starting an education program for parents of First Communion students. The goal is conversion.

In one of my last posts, I wrote about meeting a woman I met at the St. John Bosco Conference that does something very similar. She has seven parent classes every month during the sacramental preparation year.

When she told me about her program, I was in awe…and a bit jealous. I wanted one!

The program I used to have

I had a program like this when I started at my current job, though not as extensive. I stopped doing it when we changed pastors.

The school principal didn’t like the program because it interfered with the school’s sports schedule (yeah, you read that right). She thought the parents had so many other things going on, the First Communion meetings were a burden. Unfortunately, the pastor conceded.

However, I have a new pastor now! He came in after the Bosco Conference. He’s a Salesian, an amazing priest and so catechetical. One of the first things he wanted to do was re-institute the First Communion parent program. I call that providential.

The Challenge

So, the challenge now is how to make a First Communion parent program that’s informative, appealing, and evangelical.

I probably don’t have to tell you that I’m expecting significant resistance. The pastor is making this program mandatory for both parish AND school families. I’m almost certain the majority of the participants will not be thrilled to be there…at least not at first.

But my goal is to make it easy for them to return…and then, over time, to convert them.

The initial plan

Here’s the 7 essential steps in my plan for an evangelizing First Communion parent program:

1. Make them feel welcome

First, I need to gather a team that can engage the parents and make them feel welcome. Food is also an integral part of this and chocolate is an essential ingredient. Hey, it lifts the mood. My professor at Franciscan used to say, “Food is God’s love made edible.” Don’t neglect the snacks!

The team will also serve as small group facilitators (see #4).

2. Be relevant

We can’t just lecture on the doctrinal points of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. 80% will be turned off by that.

We have to give them information they can use. What aspects of these sacraments are relevant to their lives? Give them benefits, not features. What are the benefits of Reconciliation? How does your life improve from devotion to the Eucharist?

Do we leave out the features/doctrinal points? Of course not! That’s what backs up the truth of the benefits.

3. Use the Information Gap Theory

When someone recognizes a gap in their knowledge, they naturally want to know the answer.

It’s what drives the popularity of mystery novels and keeps us coming back for more after the cliffhanger. We need to know what happens in the end…even if the story is bad! This is the Information Gap Theory.

I want to use this theory to keep these parents engaged and interested in our presentations.

4. Start with the Story of Salvation

The first class must be an explanation of how these sacraments fit in the overall big picture of our salvation.

Why are they important in light of God’s Triune nature, his immense love for us, original sin, and the redemption wrought by our savior. You have to situate everything you teach within this context or it means nothing.

5. Have small group discussion

Small groups are an integral part of a program like this.

People need to ask questions and talk things out. It’s the way we’re made.

6. Cast a vision

It’s imperative for evangelizing catechesis to cast vision.

We should present an alternate reality, something that could be possible if they bought into our message.

7. Make a call to action

Every lesson must include one concrete “next action step” that can lead to greater engagement with our ideas.

This should be small…something they can easily do. But doing it will facilitate (or at least be a step toward) deeper conversion.

What would you add?

Those are my initial thoughts. Obviously, there’s a lot more work to be done. I still have to figure out exactly what to say. But it’s a start.

Have you had experience with a program like this? What have you done? What would you do if you could? If you have any ideas, I’d love to know. Please leave a comment or email me.

And, if you liked this post, please give it some share love on your social media profiles.

Photo Credit: Jenniferschwalm via Compfight cc

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Comments

  1. Suzanne Walsh says:

    Marc, love this idea. First communion is just the right age / stage to reach parents and the more you can integrate practical parenting advice the better. Perhaps you’d think about including a lesson on the Examen using instruction from “Sleeping with Bread”. Parents also need help establishing some very basic disciplines like getting the family organized to get to Mass on Sunday. You’ll also need your Pastor’s active cooperation to help make the environment welcoming.

    In out parish we experimented with an approach last year where First Communion Candidates were provided with a passport type card – we called it a Journey card – and each Sunday they received a sticker to add to their Journey Card when they attended Mass. Our goal was to help build the habit of attending Sunday Mass, it seemed to work. A small start but something we’ll build on this year.

    Good luck and please keep us posted on how you develop this idea!

    • Great idea about teaching the examen to the parents Suzanne! I hadn’t thought of that at all. That might be a good practice to help the students become aware of when they do something not of God, something that takes away life and takes them farther away from God. It could help for the examination of conscience too making them aware of their sins. I like your idea about getting the family organized for Mass.

      This passport idea is phenomenal. I will definitely try to implement that! That’s a perfect theme too because you’re journeying toward reception of the sacrament, and you need the passport to get there. Love it.

  2. Eileen Ponder says:

    I’m excited for you! Shades of the sacramental prep program I was blessed to direct in Greensburg, PA some years ago. The heart of our program was our parent formation. We gave them several options for each of the four sessions through the year. Children were catechsized through ongoing education programs and via a series of retreats through the year. All culminated in an awesome one day retreat we called Jesus Day with both children and parent(s), godparent, or sponsor. The highlight of that day was the pastor washing the feet of each Confirmation/ First Communion candidate—in his dining room. It was awesome,

    I agree pastor presence and active involvement was crucial. My boss taught the parent sessions with me. I always found that starting with really basic presentation of sacrament as ritual activity gave parents the hooks on which to hang everything else. We talked about the importance of ritual in our everyday lives, bedtimes, school mornings, holidays, birthdays. Early in the first gathering small groups shared what turned out to be beautiful stories of important family rituals and in the larger group sharing we helped them name just how those rituals formed their understanding of who they are as individuals and families. It was easy then to talk about how sacraments also tell us who we are, to whom we belong, and how we are to live (i.e. what we believe and value and are called to do / be in the world)

    Exciting stuff! Help parents to “get” the life-shaping importance of ritual-making in human life and the rest of the teaching seems to roll on smoothly. Parents are usually quick to see how their children make rituals naturally. Just observe them respond to life occurrences: they know precisely when to hug, comfort, celebrate, sing, skip, hang a picture, pray etc. etc.

    Good luck and every good blessing to you!

    • Thanks for these great ideas Eileen! I’ll definitely consider this theme of rituals as a starting point. I hadn’t thought of that before.

      I love the idea of a Jesus Day retreat. I hadn’t thought of retreats as part of this either. It would be awesome to do a family retreat for the First Communion candidates and their parents. Great stuff!

  3. Marc, this is such an incredible idea–and one I’m sure will be met with resistance!

    I love #6 about casting vision. I think it connects really well with point #2 about being relevant. What are they struggling with in life right now? How can faith shed light on their past and present and show a path ahead for the future?

    I would add: share testimonials. Share your faith journey and your faith struggles. Have the small group leaders give their personal witness talks. Make it like a mini-retreat. Faith is born out of a loving encounter with God. How did you encounter him? Will the parents feel they can have that encounter too? These stories will build trust between you and the parents and give them something to relate to personally.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what I’m after…what are they struggling with and how do these sacraments address that need? Good idea about looking at their past, as well as the present, to get an idea for the course of action in the future.

      I definitely think you’re right about the necessity of testimonials. Very good point. I completely expect to meet resistance. I don’t think we’ll get far if we don’t establish a solid rapport with the parents. We’ll need to be very transparent about our faith and feelings about the sacraments. Great points about trust and giving them something to personally relate to. That will be so crucial. Thanks!

  4. Rita McConnell says:

    Marc, think about proving child care during the meeting. It gives parents one less excuse not to be there. You also might want to think about a way to incorporate some thoughts on the appropriate manner to prepare your child for first communion. Parents, particularly those whose children are not enrolled in a parish school often make the event (particularly in the case of little girls) all about dress up and not about God. We had our first communion last year, and have another this year. There are so many ways to truly make this a special family commitment to God.

    • Rita, I will be conducting these meetings during my regular family catechesis night so childcare is taken care of. You’re right though, so important to give parents one less excuse for not coming.

      I was thinking of concrete actions to give the parents relating to their children…almost like homework assignments relating to their child’s preparation. Working with their children to prepare for the sacraments could be a great way of doing that. Also, teaching their kids some aspect of what they learned could be another application of this. That’s a great idea.

  5. I LOVE this idea. Maybe have a mentoring program in the spirit of Titus 2, older women coming alongside younger women as a companion. I had some such ladies who were so necessary to my Christian walk.

    This could be such an awesome community builder. I’d join if it was offered when my kids were little.

    Blessings,
    Lyn

    • Wow, this is an awesome idea Lyn! A mentoring program with older women or perhaps couples. I’m definitely going to work on that! It really would be a fantastic community builder. Thanks!

  6. We have been working with our 1st Holt Communion and Confirmation parents over the past couple of years as well. Being a Jesuit led parish we are slowly adding in some Ignatian Spirituality. The first stage of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola is to look at Salvation History and understand sin in our lives, see God’s love and work on our relationship with Him. Thanks for giving us more to mix in to our evolving recipe.

    I missed being with everyone at Bosco this year.

    • Hi Dave! That’s cool that you’ve been working on the same thing at your parish. Definitely love starting with Salvation History and the kerygma to set the stage. I’d love to hear how things do evolve and what types of Ignatian spirituality work for you. Hope to see you at Bosco again soon!

  7. Marc what about adding some directed prayer time? Maybe adoration with a meditation on a well-chosen Gospel reflection. Maybe dedicate one evening’s session to a mini-retreat.

    Nonetheless, your 7 posts are so good I’ll re-blog this post.

    • Great ideas Fr. Matthew. I had thought about incorporating adoration at some point in the program. I also want to have many interactive, reflective, and prayerful times in there as well. I don’t want it to be all lecture. Your idea of a meditation on a particularly applicable Gospel passage is a fantastic idea. Thanks!

    • Thanks for pointing that out Father. I am wrestling with some of the same things as Marc. I tend to focus all on what we need to put into the program, thinking content, and forget that it’s only in spending time with Him that their hearts will be converted. Some people need to be “brought back down to earth”, but I tend to err on the opposite end; sometimes I need to be reminder to lift my mind and heart to Heaven. Thanks!

  8. Our family apostolate creates fun Catechism, Sacrament, Saint and prayer-based paper craft kits, books and quizzing cards. It’s our thought that if we can get kids excited about doing crafts and activities loaded with Catholic Faith…including scrapbooking and journaling through the Sacraments…and classic board games infused with Catechism…maybe it will entice the parents to delve into the Faith, learn more and commit to Sunday Mass (especially if kids bring the crafts home!) I just posted our Craft Kit Guide to Catholic Curriculum today…I’m thinking about some of the Sacrament craft kits mentioned here: http://www.equippingcatholicfamilies.com/2013/08/a-craft-kit-guide-to-catholic-curriculum.html

  9. Debra Hernandez says:

    We’ve been talking about trying to do that at our parish. I didn’t quite grasp your schedule, whether is all parents 7 times a month for 9 months or just 7 times in one month. However, I would recommend you make it convenient. Because we are a religious minority in Utah, families have to drive quite far. So everything is met with resistance unless we make it convenient. Therefore, our classes are held Sunday’s before the family mass. Just a thought.

    • Hi Debra! I’m planning to meet once a month for 7 months.

      This is a really good recommendation. You are absolutely right. It has to be convenient and easy to use. I’ll have to consider that when figuring out the timing, venue, and schedule. If it’s too hard to do, then people will just give up. That goes along with childcare too. If it’s too difficult to deal with the little kids, they won’t come…or they might come but they won’t be engaged.

  10. Why do you have to make it mandatory?

  11. Donna Botts says:

    I agree with all of the above suggestions. I especially like the small group sharing. Start with something non-threatening before you handle anything spiritual. Ending and beginning prayer to the sessions I think is essential. We tell them how important it is for their life so we must also include it. The prayer should be interactive and not something done for them. Many of the old religion teacher magazines had great examples of interactive prayer for students and parents. Also incorporate the prayers the children are required to know. It is exciting to read all the enthusiasm for passing on the Catholic Faith to our families.

  12. Thanks for the suggestions Donna! Especially the idea of interactive prayer and incorporating the prayers the children should know. I like that. I think it’s a good idea to start with non-threatening things as well. I don’t want them to be uncomfortable at the start. Only challenge them later.

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