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Faith Formation Classes: Can You Afford to Not Send Your Children to CCD?

October 1, AD2017

Faith formation

School, both government mandated and Catholic faith formation through CCD classes, is now in session. In America, children wake up, get ready for the day, and head out the door. They wait for the big yellow school bus to take them to several hours of learning and socializing. After school, children’s days are filled with activities: soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, art, dance, tutoring…you name it!

The question is, where does CCD and Catholic faith formation fit in all this, and is it worth the cost? Rising prices means sacrificing so a child can attend CCD, and today’s parents are questioning the expense of educating a child in Catholicism. I contacted a diocesan leader from a large Midwestern diocese with both large and small parishes to find out more about CCD spending and costs.

Where Does the Money for Catholic Education Go?

Tuition varies widely depending on demographics, income levels, and other factors, but one thing is certain – educating a child takes money. Programs are generally run by directors of religious education (DRE) who require a salary, but additional paid staff are often needed. These people compose letters to families, parishioners, and the diocese. They keep records of sacraments and grades. They update files with everything from who is allowed to pick a child up and emergency contacts to allergy concerns and medications needed. Records also need to be kept on catechists and on their training including Safe Environment and faith formation. Adult staff need background checks, and teachers and students both need attendance records. All this must be compiled into databases and submitted to the diocese.

Other costs are standard for any school program. Heating, cooling, electricity, and building maintenance take a big chunks out of program budgets. Many CCD facilities are older Catholic school buildings. Some are vacant during the day but need to be maintained to allow staff to work and to feel welcoming to children when they come. When you consider the expense of maintaining a home, you can only begin to realize the cost of maintaining a CCD building.

Additional expenses include textbooks and expendables like workbooks, stipends for speakers and additional priests who help with activities such as Reconciliation – especially during holiday seasons – Sacramental prep, certificates, and retreat leaders. Little things add up!

The Salary of the Director of Religious Education

It would be nice to have a fully volunteer staff. It seems that would be the most Christian way to work, but reality is finding volunteers to teach classes is difficult enough. Finding a volunteer DRE to run an entire CCD program would be almost impossible. DRE’s work a minimum of nine months a year. The majority of DRE’s work 11 months a year, and some need to work a full 12 months depending on the size of the program, which can range from a few students to a few thousand.

The job of the DRE extends beyond greeting families at once a week classes. Leaders are busy behind the scenes with phone calls and emails from parents, church members, parish staff, and the diocese. They plan and attend staff meetings and participate in parish and regional meetings, training sessions, and their own faith formation classes. They are responsible for the safety and well-being of every student in attendance and must be up to date on fire and safety codes, evacuation and lock down procedures, and health and medical alerts for students with special needs, dietary restrictions, and medical concerns. They are also in the tricky position of handling discipline issues and parent complaints.

Many DRE’s work 60-80 hours a week especially during busy seasons. They are in charge of filling the role of absent teachers, supplementing lesson plans, gathering and transporting materials, preparing liturgies, parent meetings, and handouts, and more. DRE’s are responsible for the maintenance of their buildings and safety of the children, volunteers, and staff. A DRE’s job is time consuming and receives little glory.

The DRE position is much like that of a school principal, but school principals generally make a higher salary, have better contracts, and receive more help running their schools. Yes, students are in session for longer days than they are in a CCD class, but administration duties are not that different. The average salary of a school principal in America is approximately $91,000. The average salary of a DRE in America is $37,000.

Why the Recent Jump in Catholic CCD Education Costs?

It’s no surprise that we’re paying more for things today than we did in the past. Food prices have gone up. Heating costs have gone up. Entertainment costs have gone up. Education costs have gone up. Why then are so many shocked by the cost of educating children in our Catholic faith? The answer may be twofold. First, the price of sending a child to CCD has gone up more than some other expenses. Second, many feel that educating a child in the faith should be free or very low cost. Please note, any family in real need is not turned away from CCD. It may require going to the DRE or a parish priest to humbly ask for help and sharing finances as you would to any program you requested assistance from, but families in need are generally given free tuition.

According to the Collegeboard, which designs the SAT and is a leader in helping students plan post secondary education, private nonprofit college tuition has risen approximately 41% in ten years. This means what cost $100 in 2007 now costs about $141. In terms of private college tuition not including room and board, it means that what once cost $10,000 now costs $14,100. This may not be seen as a drastic change yet many complain of college tuition too. CCD tuition has risen at a faster rate than other expenses but part of that reason is because the starting points were so low. Catholic parishes have, in almost all cases, done the best they can to keep programs low cost. Because starting points were low, they now find they need to raise costs more quickly to maintain status quo.

Our little ones are nowhere near college and many young families are hit for the first time in CCD tuition by the sticker shock of education. By the time students get to college, families have been warned about the costs for so long they are expecting it. They also see the value in it and sacrifice to make that payment work. In cases where tuition doesn’t work easily, many families take out loans or choose a public college which is state subsidized and less expensive. No family should have to take out a loan to attend CCD, but some other sacrifices may have to be made. Choosing a state sponsored CCD program is not an option.

Why Isn’t Our CCD Program Paid for by the Parish?

Reality is harsh, and it’s hitting Catholic churches worldwide. Sadly, many families choose to send their children to CCD but fail to attend Mass and don’t give regularly. Sunday is no longer a day of rest in thanksgiving and glorifying the Lord. It is a day to sleep in, watch football, hang out with friends, and catch up on the week’s work or get ahead for the coming week. These parishioners often want free tuition paid by the church but they don’t want to give to the church. 

Dropping numbers of Christians in America and the rise of social Catholics compared to devout Catholics result in decreasing funds available to subsidize faith formation classes. If parishes were to fully fund faith formation classes, money would be taken from other Corporal Works of Mercy including feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and caring for the imprisoned.

Weak catechesis of today’s adults has left mothers and fathers skeptical of the value of CCD programs. Because parents were never told of the depth of the Catholic faith, they don’t see the Rosary as more than repetitive prayer, for example. They don’t understand the Real Presence of the Eucharist or the call to Reconciliation. They don’t know the connection to Communion of Saints or how Mary and Jesus are longing for them to come home. Few have heard of Eucharistic Adoration. Many believe Mass should be entertaining to be fulfilling, and don’t value what is truly happening in that Holy hour.

This poor catechesis is not their fault, but because they don’t know there is more, they miss the point of sending children to CCD, going to Mass, and doing other deeply Catholic things. When people don’t understand the value, they question paying for the cause. The end result is that the few who still send their children to CCD and attend Mass end up carrying a bigger burden.

Is Catholic CCD Worth the Expense?

Families are hurting in our tight economy. Jobs are hard to come by, and people increasingly rely on government provisions. Many families question whether they can afford their children’s CCD expenses.

A good place to start answering this is to compare CCD expenses with other family expenses. Look at the activities your children do. How much is spent on sports programs, art clubs, and dance class? How much do we as a society spend on raising children’s self-esteem? How much do we spend on counseling? Think long term and ask how much we layout in the hopes of preventing teen pregnancy and STD’s. No CCD program can eliminate these needs, but devout Catholic families who seek support of other devout Catholic families tend to raise children who understand the God-given dignity of all God’s children. They have a lower incidence of out of wedlock births, sexually transmitted diseases, and other social and emotional complications that come along with not valuing Catholic beliefs.

Perhaps the best thing to do when considering if you can afford CCD is to think in eternal terms. What value does the world’s best soccer program have in Heaven? What value does producing amazing artwork have if you skip Mass to produce it? What value does performing intricate dance moves have for your child’s soul?

Many of us who were poorly catechized see the amazing creation of God when we gaze upon our children. We see in them a promise and perfection we don’t see in ourselves. Because we are so closely created in God’s image, we want our children to be happy so we sign them up for activities that promote immediate happiness. We see the value in immediate happiness. We get instant satisfaction when our kids are happy, well liked, and skilled. Value in a CCD program comes out on God’s timing. It requires patience, perseverance, sacrifice, and long term thinking. It also requires us, as adults, to understand the real value of all the Catholic-y things we do.

If we question the value of our children’s faith formation, perhaps the first thing we need to do is to question our own faith formation and take charge of what we were not able to do as children. As adults, we need to research our Catholic faith and discover what it is we believe and why. It is only when we embrace the depth of our faith that we see the true value of a quality CCD program. Once we understand that, we must ask, not if we can afford CCD, but how can we not?

God Bless…

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Strahlen is a single mom of five boys. The fifth little guy was a surprise pregnancy and her husband left suddenly in the middle of it for a woman he met on Facebook. The next few years would bring financial, emotional, and spiritual challenges beyond her imagining, but they would also bring a faith she never knew existed. Strahlen is now a life coach working with women in transition and hopes to reach out to other divorced Catholics to let them know there is Hope and Love in the Catholic church. Today, she and her five sons work hard for everything that comes their way, but they are also successful, happy, and faithful. They enjoy camping, sports, and (highly competitive) board games. And if you're wondering about that last little Baby Boy - He is a bundle of giggles and goofiness. He is such a gift to his mother and brothers and he constantly proves that God's plans are greater than our own! Check out more of their story at Single Mom Smiling.

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  • Älter und weiser

    Unfortunately, my experience with parish CCD for my children was poor to say the least.
    For years, the program was lead by a woman who would have made a nice Lutheran Sunday school teacher. Our pastor, who, IMHO, leaned heavily to SJW causes, finally had to fire her.
    The program in my parish was designed to ensure that orthodox working dads could not participate.
    The classes were held at 3:30 on Mondays. I don’t know about you, but I was at my desk at work at that time. Basically, we had to home school our children in the faith and CCD class was “Pro forma”

    My sons are late 20’s early 30’s now. At a Catholic bible study, a fellow asked my son where he learned his faith. My son said, “My Dad”. Brought tears to my eyes. It still does.

  • scpick

    My 13 and 10 year old grandkids have attended CCD in the past, but when I asked them if they knew the Ten Commandments, they knew one. So I have started to teach them the basics of the Catholic faith starting with the Ten commandments, explaining how each would affect them in their lives and how they pertain to going to Confession. Along with this, I told them of the stories behind the commandments and how we got them, Bible stories. Eventually I will head into the Bible and the Mass, which they attend every other weekend due to a divorced family. It is definitely a work in progress, and hopefully without end.

  • Lee

    I agree with the other commenters. If you are a faithful catholic, you really can afford to skip these classes. I really mean no disrespect and I do believe parish staff are trying to do what they feel is right. I just wish our parishes would use common sense and allow families that attend Mass and are active members of the parish to opt out of these classes. My kids are bored attending and already know the information. With a large family and newborns, just getting them to the parish is almost impossible during evening hours when little one’s are tired and just want to eat dinner and go to bed. Not everyone has a husband with traditional working hours or extended family around to help.
    I also don’t understand how the DREs are given so much power over the sacraments. At our parish we are strictly told that the only acceptable reason for missing class is illness. How can this be Catholic? So a family vacation is not acceptable? Grandma’s 70th birthday is not acceptable? I know a mom that is scared to talk to the DRE and pastor about a previously scheduled vacation that does not coincide with the parish holiday schedule. How can they subtly threaten that the sacrament may be denied if class is missed for another reason? There has to be a better way than treating sacramental preparation like it’s another boring class the kids have to attend after sitting in school all day.

    • Hi Lee, thanks for commenting and for your concern. My experience having taught 8th grade Confirmation is that most kids, even in the Sacramental years, do not have families that take the faith seriously. Most adults have been poorly catechized and don’t know what they’re missing out on. They rarely go to Church and don’t pray or know of the saints, the Rosary, Adoration, the Real Presence, Confession, the catechism. When you look at Catholic Marriage, cohabitation, and abortion rates and voting habits etc, you find little difference between Catholics and nonCatholics. Unfortunately, in ccd classes instructors and priests are stuck trying to get the kids to do the minimal, which often means imposing attendance policies. You’re right that it isn’t fair to fully participating Catholics. A lot of things in life are not fair. I would suggest bravely and humbly speaking to your priest about issues you’re facing or the family with the vacation is facing. I’ve never seen a child from a faithful, Church attending family denied a Sacrament for missing a few classes. I’d also caution anyone questioning the value or necessity of ccd to beware of who is listening, whether it is children or marginal adults. You may plant seeds of doubt you don’t intend to. Some concerns are valid and should be talked over with a priest and DRE bit never discussed in doubt outside.

      I’d also say, the Catholic Stand audience is not the typical Catholic CCD attending family. Most Catholic Stand readers know their faith better than the majority of Catholics. My hope in writing this article was that it would be shared with those marginal Catholics whose children have little hope of receiving faith formation in the home or who need help expanding their faith formation in the home.

  • Therese

    I pulled my children out of our parish CCD program because it was so DAMN shallow it was having the effect of making my children believe that the Catholic Church wasn’t all that important in comparison to any other belief system. It was all fluffy, self-esteem junk without any contextual meat about what the Catholic Church really teaches AND WHY! As usual, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was rarely, if ever, used. There was absolutely no preparation in apologetics for when they went out into the world.

    • I’m sorry to hear this Therese. Knowing how you discovered this may help other parents investigate their own ccd programs. Also, what are you doing to make the ccd classes and parish stronger so your children’s peers, who will have greater influence on your children as they grow, are not also led astray? Many adults have been poorly catechized. How can you work for positive change in the ccd classes rather than turn your back on the classes and on so many souls who don’t even know what they’re missing out on?

  • Lee Gilbert

    Well, in my experience, the teaching of CCD is very uneven. A parent could do as well by 1) getting the mass media out of the home; 2) spending time with the family in the evening reading good literature for half an hour (Swiss Family Robinson, Chronicles of Narnia, etc); 3) reading lives of the saints to the children to pique their interest in the faith, not three page bios, but full length books- again for half an hour; 4) and work with them in studying and memorizing the Baltimore Catechism as well for 20 minutes or so. This will not only produce good Catholics, but may very well lead to vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We saw this in our own family.

    • Thanks for commenting Lee. I agree. The teaching of CCD, like teaching of anything, is very uneven. You have excellent instructors and instructors who are far from excellent and may not actually follow or believe church teachings. You know the verse about what happens to those who lead little ones astray. It is up to parents to not just enroll their children, but also to discover who is teaching their children, what the teacher’s background and beliefs etc are.

      While what you’re proposing is important as far as knowing the catechism and reading about the saints, I don’t think most parents do that or know enough to themselves. Most parents suffer from the same issues as our weak catechists: their own poor faith formation.

      Finally, I’d also say that in a belief that you (collective, not personally directed at you, Lee) are better than ccd instructors, you may Rob your child of a different learning style, point of view (assuming both are Catholic, the same lessons can still be delivered in different ways), and the influence of positive peers. Yes, there are faithful, positive peers out there too. Children need to fund those peers when they are young to help them stay on the straight and narrow as they grow.

      Parents need to take the bulk of teaching into their own hands and really know the program and instructors, but dismissing entirely formal faith formation because you think you can do better may be prideful or an act of convenience in some instances.

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