Post-Christendom Confirmation: A Preliminary Thesis Proposal

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

This week and next I’m at McCormick Theological Seminary for what my DMin program calls a “thesis residency.” The idea is to be on campus for a dedicated time of intentional work on our thesis proposals and preliminary research. I’m beginning this time with a 15 page preliminary thesis proposal I wrote this past fall. By April 1 I will have a more developed 30-40 page final proposal. I’ve shared my preliminary proposal with several colleagues, partners, and mentors and have received much valuable feedback already. Risking the vulnerability of making this more public, I’d love to hear what you, the readers of this blog, think about what I’m working on. So here is the working abstract of my project. Let me know what you think!

The fastest growing category in surveys of American religiosity is the group who says that they have no religious affiliation, often colloquially referred to as the “nones.” One clear factor contributing to the “rise of the nones” is generational replacement: newer generations are considerably less religious than older generations. Another important factor is the widespread cultural shift from Christendom to post-Christendom. If there will be a future for the Christian witness of mainline Protestantism in the 21st century, these realities must be addressed.

Of the numerous interventions we could consider, this project focuses on the unique formation opportunity found in the practice of confirmation. Even in post-Christendom American, confirmation represents a brief window of time in which we have the attention of youth and adults, a captive audience we cannot afford to squander.

My hypothesis is that typical confirmation practices—in which youth are empowered to pick and choose the theologies and practices that they find most compelling—have directly contributed to the “rise of the nones.” This hypothesis will be tested by conducting a series of interviews with youth and young adults who have completed confirmation under my guidance over more than a decade of youth ministry. Based on a qualitative analysis of these interviews, I will suggest potential interventions that might feasibly transform our confirmation practices to better prepare young people to participate in vibrant expressions of post-Christendom Christianity.

Comments

  1. Martha Brown says:

    Go for it!

  2. Bring it. I’m eager to see what you do and to grapple with it. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Love the idea — and I agree that traditional confirmation practices at best don’t help the problem, and at worst are part of it.

    One thought on the research approach… I worry you will get a biased selection by you personally interviewing youth you led. You would also be captive to a certain demographic or church sample (not a huge issue, but may limit the broader applicability of what you find). Maybe other churches could volunteer some former confirmands to broaden the sample?

    I’m sure you thought about this, though, so I imagine you have your rationale…

  4. Joshua Patty says:

    I think that this project has value beyond your question. I think that an attempt to systematically consider a group of confirmands a period of years after their confirmation could offer insights, specifically about attitudes related to the “nones,” but also about the shape of Christian Education and faith development among teenagers (using your presence as the control factor).

  5. Sounds interesting, John. I hope to read it one day! You probably know this, but I believe Rodger Nishioka’s dissertation looked at confirmation “results,” particularly of PKs (that’s a foggy memory, though). It may be helpful.

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