One of the keys to retaining catechists from year to year is providing them with what they need to maintain their enthusiasm. As a catechetical leader, you have an opportunity to help catechists avoid some of the pitfalls that might otherwise drain their interest. Here are some ways that you can help your catechists and volunteers to cope with stresses that are a part of their ministry.
1. Focus on solutions, not just problems. One temptation for people working in helping professions and ministries is to gripe about problems. While it may feel good at the moment to vent feelings, in the long run it only serves to deflate people’s spirits and add stress. Provide time for catechists to share stories of their successes. Likewise, by inviting them to contribute to problem solving, you can channel their energy in a positive manner.
2. Give them autonomy. People can experience good stress, such as embarking on a grand adventure, as well as bad stress, such as being stuck in traffic. Having choices in situations has been proven to help people deal with stress in positive ways. Allow your catechists as much autonomy as possible in carrying out the goals of the program.
3. Help them “involve their whole selves.” Being involved in faith formation is not just a “head trip.” As Jesus advised, we need to use our whole hearts and minds and souls. Pay attention to the many other parts of catechists’ lives that might be weighing on them as they come to teach. A brief moment of shared prayer before beginning a session allows catechists to give voice to their special intentions and can help your catechists feel wholly present.
4. Know and use the catechist’s preferred style of affirmation. Some people like public recognition; others like a quiet pat on the back. Some enjoy a handwritten note while others would be touched by a different token of appreciation. Whatever the form may be, affirmation is key to maintaining enthusiasm.
5. Listen to what your catechists say. Everyone longs to be heard. Coordinating a complex program can put limits on how much time you can devote to hearing everyone’s comments. On the other hand, cutting people short can lead to their feeling unimportant. Letting catechists know that they are seen, heard, and appreciated can raise their level of enthusiasm.
6. Listen to what they don’t say. You do not need to become a mind reader. On the other hand, you do need to watch for and pick up on nonverbal cues that catechists may be giving you about their enthusiasm or lack thereof. If they seem in a terrible rush, help them slow down. If they seem withdrawn, gently invite them to actively participate again. If they seem uncharacteristically sullen, acknowledge the changed behavior and ask, “Is something wrong? You don’t seem like yourself today. Anything I can do to help?”
7. Provide support in ways that don’t add stress. Endless meetings and constant supervision are counterproductive. Make sure that your presence is communicated as supportive to catechists so that you do not burden them with added anxiety.
8. Encourage catechists to establish realistic goals. Sometimes catechists lose enthusiasm for their ministry because they establish unrealistic goals. Help catechists identify several challenging yet attainable goals and then provide feedback and support to help them achieve and possibly surpass these goals.
9. Catch them doing something right. Such vague expressions as “Great job!” or “That’s fine!” are not nearly as effective as the mention of a specific action or behavior that you have observed in a catechist and wish to commend. Express your observation in person or in a note but be sure to be specific and unwaveringly positive.
10. Build parishwide knowledge and support for their work. The faith formation of our children is no one person’s job. Everyone in the faith community has a part to play, even if it’s simply to support the efforts with prayer. You can cultivate both awareness of and support for the catechists in your parish by informing parishioners of the work that catechists do and by inviting them to show support through their prayers and tangible forms of affirmation.
These are just a few ideas on how you can support your catechists and help to maintain their enthusiasm. By supporting and affirming your catechists, you will not only help them excel in their ministry but will also increase the likelihood that they will return next year!