The reason our parish programs are boring to kids is not because they are too difficult, but because they are too dumb! We need to ask a lot more of our candidates, catechumens, and students. And they will respond to this demand because the truth they find will be worth it.
Second Proposal: Let's Get Teachers to Teach the Faith
The Church in the U.S. grew and thrived largely due to the efforts of religious brothers and sisters who ran and taught in the parish school system. We don't have enough nuns anymore, but many areas still have Catholic schools. Let's drop the Sunday school model and instead have the government school students brought over to the Catholic schools one afternoon a week. Let's pay the Catholic school teachers to stay an extra two hours one day a week to teach religion. They will know how to teach, and they will know much better what to teach. It would be a thousand percent improvement on what the kids are getting now.
Third Proposal: Recruit Theology and Scripture Majors as Tutors
Let's pretend that each child is failing religion the way some kids fail math. What do we do for the kids who are failing? Well, good parents find a tutor.
There is a wonderful resource sitting right there in the pews every Sunday that we need to tap. Lots and lots of people have studied theology and Scripture. They are probably right there sitting two rows away, heads down while suffering through some ditty from "Glory and Praise." I suggest all pastors invite these people to come forward and take on one or two students from the program. We can take some of the money we are blowing on religious ed programs and give it as a small stipend to these folks.
This one-on-one or one-to-two approach will be especially effective with older kids and RCIA students. The parish's role should move from teaching the kids to coordinating the tutors. The parish can vet the tutors and set the standards for what the students need to know. The tutors can meet with the kids at whatever time is best for all and when the students are ready, the mentors can present them to the pastor for scrutiny. This method will allow the students and tutors to cover a lot more material in a much more powerful way. Their interactions will be more sharings than classes, and the student will be constantly engaged in relating the truths being discussed to their own lives.
Also, the truth is, learning the Faith is different than learning algebra. It is a more personal kind of learning that is ill-suited to classroom rote. Some candidates learn faster. Some catechumens can take in more abstract concepts. Some are going to respond better to exhortation and others to parables. All are going to need to share what they are hearing and what it means to them. The tutorial model is better at this than the group of unruly government school kids in a classroom model.
Some of the people out there in the pews will be experts in Scripture. Some will know a lot about moral theology and ethics. Some will have more to say about liturgy or ecclesial history. The new job of the DRE will be to coordinate these tutors and utilize them with a couple of students several months every year or so.
How about that, for asking people to be real disciples? This will create lasting bonds of friendship and discipleship in the parish. Those who are taught will feel gratitude and will move on to becoming tutors themselves. It would be a great, great thing for a parish.
I am speaking from personal experience here. Our Hollywood RCIA program is very rigorous and demanding. We not only require an hour or two of catechism study every week, but we usually stipulate two Catholic novels be read a month during the program. We read directly from the documents of Vatican II, and regularly work in other texts on moral theology, history, and Scripture. It's almost too much for the learners but the powerful subtext they absorb is that the Catholic faith is rich and deep and much, much smarter than you are. This tutorial model works very well with the catechumens and candidates, and always draws in twice as many people because they start to bring their spouses and friends and co-workers to sit in. And, of course, it has been great for my soul.
When I have addressed this matter in public, it always evokes the response that the problem in our religious education programs is not the parishes but in the parents and families. It is certainly true that parents should be the primary educators in the faith. But they can't now, can they? Let's be real. You can't give what you don't have, and we have two or three generations of parents now who know next to nothing about their faith. A big plus of the "living room catechesis" model is that it draws the parents in. They will naturally be part of it, and they will learn along with their kids.
We have to stop the madness. We have to stop lying about how bad this problem is because we don't want to cause a stir and hurt feelings. The Church in the 21st-century is dying of a malaise that comes from ignorance. People aren't praying because they don't know anything about God. They aren't evangelizing because they don't know what they have to share. Hurt feelings are not the worst thing that can happen to a religion.
"But when the Son of Man comes, will there be any faith left on earth?"