Are You Ministering to Infants or Adults?

I often tell the story of my Sacrament of Confirmation liturgy as an important moment in my faith journey.

I don’t remember much about the confirmation process at my parish. It was a 2-year program. I remember the adult leaders. But that’s about it.

When the time came for me to be confirmed, I was going through the motions much like my fellow confirmation candidates. But something unexpected happened.

During the homily, my Bishop told the entire group of 80 candidates to go outside the doors of the church and yell at the top of our lungs, “World, I love Jesus!”

You can imagine how hesitant 80 high school sophomores were to do this. But, we did it. The Bishop counted to three. We sort of yelled. He didn’t like it, so he counted to three again. We really yelled it.

It was embarrassing.

That’s when it hit me. This whole church thing made sense. I was called to go out into the world and yell at the top of my lungs that I love Jesus in my own way using my own gifts and strengths.

This was a tremendous conversion experience for me.

I recently wrote a post titled, “Your Ministry Is Not Working,” reflecting on the data that Sherry Weddell presents in the first chapter of her phenomenol book, Forming Intentional Disciples.

In chapter 2, Weddell clearly outlines two paradigms of church: an “infant paradigm” and an “adult paradigm.” She states, “In the twenty-first century, Catholic pastoral practice is still largely based upon what could be called an ‘infant paradigm’… We often function as though the initiation of a young child into the faith is the practical spiritual norm” (67-68).

She describes this paradigm as one that does not have an “overt conversion experience.”

“We act as though the experience of conversion is rare rather than normative” (69).

Wow! As I reflected on my own confirmation story, I recognized that this statement was true for me. My confirmation was my first conversion and the foundation upon which my faith and ministry stand. I’ve had other conversion experiences since then, but it all started when I was a sophomore in high school.

Looking at the numbers, is it suggested that adults are not having conversion experiences that draws them deep into the faith and develops a meaningful relationship with God?

Much of our ministry efforts are focused on children. Yet, children up to a certain age are not capable of a truly transforming conversion experience. Infants at baptism have no idea what is going on and therefore that moment is not a conversion for them.

Challenging and encouraging adults to seek God in their lives must continue to be a priority in my ministry. For me, this leads me to believe that I need to continue to focus my ministry on adults. If adults continue to have conversion experiences, then their passion for Christ and the church will be an integral part of our faith formation of children and youth.

I believe this is what Weddell suggests is the “adult paradigm.”

If a conversion experience is essential to our faith, then what can I do in my ministry to foster these experiences?

Question: How are you helping to create conversion experiences in your ministry?

John Rinaldo

As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.


John Rinaldo


As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.



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