“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.
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The Confirmation Project
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 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, retreats, and mentoring.
Recommended articles within this issue include:
- “Emerging Trends in Confirmation and Equivalent Practices” (p. 20-39)
- Vibrant Confirmation Ministry within “Encountering the Gospel Anew: Confirmation as Ecclesial, Person, and Missional Practices” chapter (p. 49-54)
- The Use of the Affirmation of Baptism in the Marking of Milestones in “Reimagining Confirmation Ministry as a Lifelong Process” chapter (p. 87-89)
- “Confirmation Basics: Purpose, Design, and Leadership” (p. 101-116)
Four Dimensions of Confirmation: Key Learnings from the Qualitative Research
Drawing on a formation model, confirmation was about faith maturation, or faith connecting knowledge, belief, and action into one’s life and identity. Starting with the ideas youth have at least minimal familiarity with the Christian story, Christian practices, and the church’s theology, this maturation happened as young people engaged in learning activities within a community of faith and concluded with a personal commitment as part of a public rite. Underneath this understanding, four dimensions surface regarding the design, leadership, ecology, and curriculum of confirmation.
Underneath these four dimensions (see infographic below) there are nine sub-themes that provide the threads that, when woven together, create the tapestry of confirmation as discovered by The Confirmation Project.
Other Findings from The Confirmation Project
- Most important to learn: death & resurrection, the Bible, God (Father/Creator, Son/Jesus/Redeemer, & Holy Spirit/Sanctifier)
- Least important to learn: abortion, gay marriage, church governance, drug abuse
- Parents and youth placed more importance on Lord’s Prayer than leaders. In follow-up, youth reported learning more about this topic than all others except the Bible and God.
- Leaders placed much more importance on the sacraments than both parents and youth. However, in the follow-up, communion and baptism were among the top 7 topics youth reported learning most about.
- Youth considered topics related to the immediacy of God as much more important than leaders or parents. These topics included miracles, experiences of / or encounter with God, and the meaning of life. However, youth reported that in learning about these topics they felt they were less important compared to other topics learned.
A Snapshot of Today's Confirmation Class
(Note: These are not necessarily considered best practices and could serve as a means to review what your current practices are and how you might “up your game.”)
- Control and standards are decentralized – Confirmation programs have very little overall denominational control or standards. In the Episcopal Church, some (very few) have diocesan guidelines. Each congregation offers confirmation preparation their “own way.”
- Programs are clergy-centered – Clergy members almost always directly supervise and participate in their congregation’s confirmation programs (97% of all programs). In 25% of all programs, clergy members lead with no other adult involvement. (Our note: Are safe church practices being followed?)
- Settings resemble a school classroom model – There are regularly scheduled classes (45 minutes – 2 hours) that follow a planned curriculum. It coincides with the school calendar (entire year/s, or just fall or spring semester). Programs with alternative approaches are outliers.
- Classes are discussion-based – 96% of programs use the methodology of small group discussion. These may follow a lecture, include Bible study, follow a multimedia presentation, be inquiry-led, or may revolve around a game or other hands-on learning.
- Programs are contextual – Programs are structured around the unique needs of individuals, congregations, communities, and / or students. Class meetings (day, time, program duration is based on the needs of students and families. Programs with the same number of classroom hours may look very different from one another.
- There’s no standard for the number of classroom hours – There is lots of variability due to each congregation’s contextual reality, the decentralized nature of confirmation ministry, and the necessity of a ministry leader to coordinate the program
- There’s no standard for out-of-classroom activity – Some programs have not extra requirements (not even worship attendance) while some require volunteering, retreat/camp attendance, homework, etc.
- There’s inconsistency on enforcement of requirements – For example, some programs have fairly strict standards and requirements to fulfill prior to the confirmation rite. The majority are much less strict or have fairly low standards.
"The point is to spend time contemplating our one wild and precious life, especially as individuals, but also as individuals in the community gathered. Where and when have our lives seems to have been most in tune with these vows, and where and when to and why? How do we make these vows make sense in the mystery of our lives that is still undiscovered territory? We matter. Our lives matter. Our lives in Christ matter. The process of Confirmation, or for the allied rites, is a ripe time, it seems to me, for rediscovering what that means."
Vicki Garvey, “Contemplating Our 'One Wild and Precious Life’” in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century (Morehouse Publishing, 2014), 78.