Models & Methodology
Statement of the Issue:
The work group spent considerable time attempting to grasp the numerous forces, trends and obstacles inherent in the present reality of adolescent catechesis. While not an exhaustive list, several of the issues which are impacting the current system of adolescent catechesis include:
- Prevailing instructional priorities and systems were built on and presume a Catholic subculture and its implicit “catechetical delivery system” of parents, family, extended family and close involvement in the neighborhood parish which is no longer the norm in most localities in the 21st century.
- The Catholic subculture has largely disintegrated and been assimilated by larger cultural forces and trends, leaving behind the edifice of instructional institutions, which, without their moorings in that subculture, are variously struggling with questions of identity and even survival.
- Mainstream Catholics have been shaped by the assumptions of American consumerism, so that religious education and instruction have become part of a system of exchange, coordinated by trained leaders and delivered by catechists in structures that do not normally involve, support or engage the parents in any substantive, and continuous catechetical role.
- There is a disconnect between many parishes and secondary schools who often exist as independent institutions, separated from the life of the parish faith communities that originally spawned them.
While there was unanimous agreement that the current systems, models and methods are not effectively bringing about the desired result of developing well-formed adolescents who seek to follow Jesus Christ, there was much discussion about some key observations and critical questions that need to be further researched and reviewed as changes to the system are contemplated:.
- Parents must have essential roles in all faith formation efforts. Faith formation programs must begin to live the reality that current research and our Church documents speak. As the National Directory for Catechesis rightly says, “parents are the most influential agents of catechesis for their children.” (NDC: 727). The Catechism of the Catholic Church is even more direct, saying “the role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.” (CCC 2221). How can the Church support and encourage parents as the primary formators of their teen’s faith? What intentional support is needed, and what systemic change is required for the Church to move from rhetoric to reality?
- The system needs a full and complete examination. The default position to adolescent catechesis often involves an instructional model that may wrongly assume additional formation takes place elsewhere, either at the parish, school or home settings. There is little within the system that allows for adequate adaptation to remedy this imbalance if it needs to be changed.
- Evangelization is the touchstone. What must be done or re-done to place catechetical efforts in the larger schema of evangelization so young people are empowered to be competent agents of evangelization?
- One size will never fit all. What are the best and most effective practices for forming the faith of teens in different settings and approaches (home, parish, school, family programs) and in light of different cultural realities (Hispanic, African American, urban, rural, multi-parish/clustered, mega-parish)?
- Ownership and empowerment occurs at the local and most domestic levels. How can we create a national process that fully engages parishes, schools, parents and teens at the local levels?
- Comprehensive methodologies that engage the head, heart and hands are needed. Does the current system perpetuate one directional approaches that seek to fill often passive students with content? What new training and formation is required for catechetical leaders and parish/school programs to collectively move toward approaches that actively engage and involve parents and teens in the faith formation process?
- Leadership is critical to transformation. How can the Partnership for Adolescent Catechesis effectively engage bishops, pastors and other catechetical leaders in this national conversation? What is necessary for leaders to support a collaborative prescription for change to the current system?
The Models and Methods work group agreed that any next steps required a “both-and” approach that includes broad-based consciousness-raising and consensus-building regarding the challenges we face, combined with a focus on research, experimentation, learning and publication.
The first steps involves a critical analysis of the current system of faith formation used by parishes and schools throughout the country and the development of a guiding vision of faith formation that will lead the National Initiative forward. Using this vision as a touchstone, research of existing models and methods should be conducted to see what is effective and why, with careful attention to the cultural issues inherent within our diverse communities.
The second direction requires that we re-examine the effectiveness of current methods and practices of faith delivery in parishes and schools today and glean the “best practices” that can be used in current and future systems. These models and practices would then become the cornerstone for future NIAC training programs.
The proposed process for moving this process forward would unfold as follows:
1. Build a National Consensus Around the Challenges We Face and the Vision We Seek.
- Develop and promote (through Advocacy work group) the vision for adolescent catechesis and formation through a broad based alliance between national organizations, USCCB and dioceses, schools, universities, seminaries and lay ecclesial ministry formation programs
- The vision would be grounded in the National Directory for Catechesis’ comprehensive faith formation vision of appropriate initiation into the Catholic way of life through the means of the Six Tasks of Catechesis (knowledge of faith, Liturgy and sacraments, moral formation, prayer, community/service and justice, and missionary spirit)
- Such a vision would place parents as the central point in this formation process with parishes and schools serving to resource and support family faith growth as well as providing additional aspects of the necessary initiation process
2. Be Adaptive to Cultural Realities
- Work with the Cultural Considerations work group in developing standards and outcomes for effective adolescent catechesis that are culturally sensitive and adaptive, yet maintain the vision and direction outlined above
- Be attentive to the potential impact of new technologies and media on learning, connecting and communication with the current and future generations on whom this National Initiative will be focused
3. Study What’s Effective
- Work with the Research work group to examine what works and what does not with various methodologies, technologies and program structures, including within unique cultural and family settings
- Systematically study the underlying assumptions of current formational approaches and compare these to the actual outcomes they are attempting to bring about
- Examine the elements which both help and hinder the parental role in forming the faith of the family unit
- Include insights from the examination of previously conducted research, models and practices that are occurring in all Christian denominations
- Publish the findings in a Source Book on Adolescent Catechesis (volume 3) and post all relevant data on the National Initiative website in order to highlight and promote the key findings
As the work of NIAC continues, the Models and Methodologies Initiatives work group will be developing resources for parishes and schools to assess the effectiveness of their catechetical programs, designing training sessions on designing and implementing and effective catechetical plan for your community, and researching effective models of catechesis in a variety of settings.
To read the entire Models and Methodologies Initiatives White Paper with proposed strategies for PAC, click here.