The Way: Our Story

Recognizing the Challenge

The concept of “The Way” started with a longing for more. The faith formation programs in our diocese are robust and comprehensive, but nothing is perfect.

We wanted to do something about the drop-off in attendance from the primary grades to middle school and a further drop from middle school to high school.

We also heard from catechetical leaders about the apathy they found in teens by 8th grade, which only got worse in high school.

In 2017, a study suggested that today, the age at which children lose faith and turn their backs on the Church was 11. Some who were interviewed were as young as 9.

Was there a way to increase retention in faith formation programs, bridge the gaps where children drop off, and lead them to become disciples of Jesus Christ in childhood?

The Birth of an Idea: Developing “The Way”

We began implementing a discipleship process/path for parish ministry called The Clear Path, which sparked the notion of a similar process for children’s discipleship formation.

Could we root children in a Christ-centered relationship before they fall away in their teenage years?

Those were the questions that started us on developing “The Way.”

We devised the idea of a path, a roadmap of crucial childhood milestones that paid particular attention to the gaps, points where children often didn’t continue their faith formation.

The Way Map
The roadmap in its final form.


The diocese completed a Vision Process in 2018, and the roadmap emerged as a goal in that diocesan vision called the Youth to Young Adult Initiative.

The idea was in place; now, we needed a plan.

Parents Are the Key

We started meeting in committees based on age ranges to discuss the milestones and how we could better engage children throughout their childhood formation process.

The committee members were clergy, parish catechetical leaders, Catholic school teachers and principals, and youth ministers.

It quickly became apparent that parents would be crucial to the success of this project. Across the board, everyone agreed parents were vital (and essentially irreplaceable) to their children’s discipleship process.

Foundations in Research: Understanding Child Development

We found research from Catholic sociologist Christian Smith that backed up this intuition and proved it. In his studies, Smith showed that parents were the most important influencers in a child’s religious beliefs and practices. They were vital to a successful faith formation process.

We also found that Maria Montessori and Sophia Cavalletti, the visionary founders of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, had already developed much of what we proposed.

Using developmental psychology, Montessori mapped out the cognitive stages children naturally go through as they grow and learn.

These are the different stages you see on the map: Concrete, Cosmic, Cultural, and Constructive.

There is one place to cross these map regions.

A bridge represents them.

These correspond roughly to the gap points discussed earlier.

Montessori’s brilliant innovation was to enter into what children are already intellectually ravenous about and structure the teaching to fit into these modes.

Cavalletti applied the same approach to Catholic faith formation.

Teaching through Dialogue: A Shared Methodology

Another breakthrough occurred when we discovered that Smith and Cavalletti shared a common appreciation for a method of teaching through dialogue and self-discovery.

Children learned better when they came up with answers through their own reasoning, and those lessons tended to stick with them.

For years, we have worked with a successful missionary outreach organization in Canada called Catholic Christian Outreach. It uses the same dialogic approach for adult evangelization in their small-group discipleship.

The convergence methodologies from these three trusted sources convinced us this approach was worth pursuing.

The Crucial Role of the Family

Smith’s insights on the priority of parents make the family an ideal context for this dialogue.

Coupled with the increasingly deconstructive nature of the culture, the family is the smallest social unit still capable of transmitting values.

The family provides a safe and supportive environment for open discussions. Children can freely discuss their issues, problems, and doubts.

At the same time, parents can guide them in distinguishing truth from fiction. That’s why “The Way” is primarily addressed to parents.

Navigating “The Way”

Inns represent times of intentional formation and conversation within the family. There are also memory-making opportunities, such as retreats represented by the painter.

The Sacraments anchor the roadmap of The Way. These vital waypoints along the path of discipleship anchor the roadmap of “The Way,” as grace fuels us for this spiritual journey.


Towards the Ultimate Goal

The end of this journey/pilgrimage is a cathedral.

This represents our ultimate goal of heaven, the destination, and true home we are all journeying toward and must reach for our lives to be a success.

Why Action is Imperative: The Consequences of Inaction

So, where do we go from here? Children are losing their faith at younger ages. This problem is not going away. If anything, it will get worse.

What happens if we keep everything the same? If you want to see that future, look to Europe. Church officials there wish they had the comprehensive programming and engagement in faith formation we have in the United States.

European bishops worry there won’t be enough critical mass left to turn things around. Now is the critical time to act.

The Vision of Success: Benefits for Children and Families

If we succeed, more kids will stay in faith formation, have stronger relationships with God, and have more substantial conversions, meaning fewer will fall away during childhood.

We will have more Confirmations, which means more Catholics will be fully armed with the grace to live Catholic lives and spread the faith to others.

That has immediate benefits because Christian Smith’s research showed that religiously active children and teens do better on measurable goals such as family relationships, academic achievements, peer friendships, and life satisfaction.

Ultimately, isn’t that what every parent wants for their children–to live happy, well-adjusted, and purposeful lives?

Not to mention the eternal benefit of all this. What good is it to gain the world but lose your soul? Remember, everyone will live somewhere forever. As a parent, where do you want that somewhere to be?

Embracing a Win-Win Strategy: Investing in Religious Formation

The Way is a win-win for parents. Investing time in your child’s religious formation will pay dividends in this life and the next.

Over the years, we have met many people who regret not being more active in their children’s faith development growing up.

Often, later in life, faith becomes more important to people. However, their children have left the Church and don’t want to talk about religion.

We don’t want you to have that regret. Invest in your children’s future faith now. Spend the time leading them on this roadmap for life.

Download The Way Family Guidebook

You'll also receive regular articles, as well as updates on additional resources, workshops, and training as they become available.