6 Ways to Reinvent Confirmation

January 25th, 2011

Confirmation is a time when young people embrace being disciples of Jesus Christ. Churches that practice confirmation use it a rite of passage where youth essentially accept their parents' faith as their own. In these churches, youth of a certain grade level or age group usually come together at a certain time of the year for confirmation classes and are confirmed later at a worship service. By doing it this way, youth (usually middle schoolers) are confirmed in batches with no child left behind, at least in theory. But the cutting-edge mainline congregations are beginning to realize that one size doesn't necessarily fit all when it comes to spirituality. MTV, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel long ago figured out that cookie-cutter teens and preteens don't exist, but the church hasn't been as quick to catch on. The result is that confirmation is no longer a big deal to a lot of teenagers; however, with a little out-of-the-box thinking, it doesn't have to be that way. It can be a relevant and vibrant spiritual experience if churches are willing to take risks and try new things. Here are some ideas:

Get rid of the classroom model. In fact, stop using the term "confirmation classes" altogether. Why? Because not only is it a major turn-off to youth who have problems with school, it perpetuates the idea that faith is a list of facts (like history) or a set of formulas (like math). That doesn't mean there should be no structure and no curriculum--on the contrary, experiential learning often requires more behind the scenes planning than traditional methods. But we should move way from the idea that confirmation classes transmit faith (pass on, communicate) and toward the concept of instilling faith (infusing slowly into the mind or feelings, putting in drop by drop). That means facing the hard truth that many people aren't gifted at teaching this way (even senior pastors!) If students see confirmation as something that's boring, or an experience they have to endure, there's a problem. Find someone who has the spiritual gift of instilling faith in others and bring them into your vision for confirmation. Christianity is exciting and we should be sharing that excitement with our youth!

Make worship a part of confirmation preparation. Worship isn't just music, it's ultimately surrendering our whole lives as an offering to God. Youth actually take their cues from us on how to relate to God, so if our church experience is primarily about beliefs and doctrine, then that's what church is going to become for them. But if it's about experiencing the presence of an awesome, infinite, all-powerful being, then that will become their norm as well. Facts and doctrine should play a role in confirmation, but they shouldn't be the main thing. Unless we're actually teaching teens how to relate to God, then confirmation has no competitive advantage over soccer practice, drama club or any other activity.

Get rid of the batch model. Faith is an individual thing, and each relationship with God is personal. So why do we insist on grouping pre-teens and teens together as if they're a homogenous group and then "graduating" that group as if everyone is the same? Lets face it, kids mature at different levels physically and emotionally. Spiritual maturity is no different. Even if you have to bring in new people to help, consider making your classes smaller, if possible more like a small group or even a two-on-two mentoring situation. (Because of safety guidelines, one on one mentoring should be avoided.) Involve parents. It's amazing how many adults grow in their faith (or even experience faith for the first time) when they participate in confirmation with their children.

Make confirmation a regular part of worship, not a special service. If you get rid of the batch model for classes, it makes sense to move away from it for the actual rite. With "rolling confirmation", teenagers are given permission to approach Christianity more on their own timetable, and there's less peer pressure (or more accurately less adult pressure) to jump on the annual confirmation class bandwagon. With the rolling model, there are unlimited windows of opportunity for youth to take another step of faith without worrying about missing their only chance and being "left out". Plus, seeing youth confess their faith on a regular basis is healthy for church morale and will encourage the entire congregation.

Give youth the opportunity to wait until they're ready. By moving away from the batch model, you make it easier for youth to opt out of confirmation for now. This may be controversial if confirmation is a sacred cow in your church. But the reality is, confirmation is supposed to be a young person's personal response to God's call... not something done on their behalf like infant baptism. If we make confirmation automatic, we risk missing the point entirely. The freedom to believe necessarily comes with the freedom not to believe, or at least the freedom to keep seeking and asking questions.

Be sensitive to individual student needs, concerns, and family situations. My church has historically practiced "old school" confirmation: weeks of classes followed by a special Sunday service. Parents come forward, pictures are taken and it's considered a big deal. But there's a problem. We have a big outreach to inner city youth who don't come to church with their parents. I've had teenagers tell me they don't want to go through with confirmation, not because they don't have faith but because they're afraid their parents won't show up for the special service. (Or maybe they're afraid they will show up!)

When making changes in youth ministry, timing is important. Remember that all churches aren't alike, and knowing which changes to make and when to make them takes wisdom. Confirmation is an important tradition- in fact, it's important enough to keep tweaking how we do it so we can make it more effective.


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