“It’s not that imparting information in an effective way is either trivial or easy. But the information we share about our faith and tradition needs to be in conversation with the lived experience of those who are exploring whether or not to be confirmed.”Laura Darling, “Everything You Need to Know to Be Confirmed” in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century (Morehouse Publishing, 2014), 98.
The Confirmation Project
2014-2018) was a collaborative research effort among five denominations (African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Church in America, The Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and the United Methodist Church) to learn more about confirmation and equivalent practices across the United States. Funded by the “Christian Youth: Learning and Living the Faith” grant provided by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. it sought to provide Christian leaders with examples of good practice and strategies that are effective in helping young Christians grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. Strengthening discipleship includes nurturing faith in Jesus Christ and facilitating youth encounters with Christian traditions (Scripture, creeds, confessions, and practices) to support lifelong Christian vocation.
They were interested in how the experience of confirmation serves to intensify Christian identity and integrate belief into daily life. The team consisted of ordained ministers, practical theologians, researchers, youth ministers, PhD candidates, and Masters of Divinity candidates committed to serving God through deepening practical and theological understanding within the church at large through empirical research. Read the full overview of the project here.
Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Lifelong Learning and the James Maxwell Professor of Lifelong Christian Formation at Virginia Theological Seminary, was the Episcopal Church’s representative in this five-year research project along with research assistant Kate Harmon Siberine (currently rector of Grace Episcopal Church in East Concord and Missioner to Franklin through the Diocese of New Hampshire).
Throughout this page (and on the Best Practices page [insert link] you will discover the key findings of the research, including helpful infographics to apply to your context.
“Reimagining Confirmation: Themes, Practices, and Particularities” – recorded webinar (December 2015) with Dr. Lisa Kimball and Dr. Terri Elton
What the Confirmation Project Discovered
Across and within denominations there is a plethora of practices surrounding confirmation. Historically, the content of confirmation often included a catechism that was memorized, often focusing on the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles Creed. As ministers realize the value of forming Christians rather than merely passing on information the Confirmation Project saw shifts away from content driven curriculum to more relational practices. Practices such as mentoring have become a key feature of many confirmation programs.
Shared understanding between ministers, youth, and parents
Across the denominational spectrum, the Confirmation Project heard from confirmation leaders and ministers that there is often a lack of understanding between leaders, youth, and parents with regard to what confirmation is supposed to be or achieve. Some ministers discussed the challenge that they have with regard to welcoming new youth to confirmation programs, who had not formerly been a part of a congregation, while offering opportunities for spiritual growth for those who had been lifelong churchgoers.
Graduation versus Integration
In their research they heard that many ministers are frustrated with the “graduation affect” that confirmation can have, where upon completion of the confirmation program youth discontinue their participation in the life of the congregation. They sought to learn why this “graduation affect” happens. Additionally, they were interested in learning from congregations who are successfully integrating youth into congregational life after confirmation.
Tradition versus Innovation
Ministry leaders told the Confirmation Project about their own choices to adapt, shift, and reform the curricular content of confirmation to more closely align with what they believe to be the telos of confirmation. These shifts often included an emphasis away from the traditional catechisms and content driven learning opportunities to more hands-on experiences of worship, service, retreat, and mentoring.
Rt. Rev. James Mathes, “A Liturgy for the Messy Middle” in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century (Morehouse Publishing, 2014), 58.