Confirmation as Bridge

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

Like the majority of Presbyterians—and perhaps the majority of all mainline Protestants—our church offers confirmation for youth who are in 8th grade. The church I served previously did confirmation in 9th grade, so I’ve always reflected on the difference between the two. At first, my thinking mostly involved differences in maturity. Having done 5 classes of high school freshman and 7 classes of 8th graders, I’m not sure that the maturity difference is that significant. Honestly, neither age is probably ready for the kind of life decision we associate with confirmation—though offering it to them is part of the wider transition into adulthood that is adolescence.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking more about this in terms of the significant attrition we experience between confirmation and high school, a phenomenon which is also shared by many other churches. While much of this attrition is due to post-Christendom realities beyond our control—which is why we must be proactive about developing new forms of high school ministry—I wonder how much locating confirmation in 8th grade sets us up for trouble.

In our church—like in many other churches—confirmation is perceived by youth and families as a “graduation” from Sunday School and often marks the end of active participation in youth ministry. I know of some churches that offer confirmation in high school precisely in order to address this issue. Confirmation is understood as a high school activity and it is believed that more youth will stay involved in youth ministry during high school because they have made this association and have recognized the value of a high school youth group.

I brought this issue to our youth ministry committee and a very generative conversation resulted. There were valid points raised about the importance of an identity forming activity like confirmation happening in 8th grade before high school begins and equally valid points raised about doing this in the midst of the critical first year of high school. What became clear in our discussion is that the transition from 8th grade to 9th grade is a crucial time in the lives of our youth and the church serves a vital role during that time. Confirmation clearly functions for us as an important bridge between childhood and adolescence.

This concept was highlighted in a third option that emerged in our discussion. Instead of offering confirmation in 8th or 9th grade, what if confirmation literally bridged the two years and covered the second half of 8th grade and the first half of 9th grade, with a summer mission trip in between? This model might be too unwieldy to implement, but it puts front and center the idea that confirmation serves this bridge role.

We’ll keep talking about these ideas and options, and if anything changes I’ll be sure to write about it here. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best time to offer confirmation and why.

Comments

  1. In my last couple years as an Associate we also attempted to address this issue–by making confirmation 1.5-2 years, beginning in 8th grade and ending either in May of 9th grade or in December of 9th grade, with a summer project in between. Part of the reasoning was that kids get so busy in high school, it’s important to have something at church that is a priority during that year so they get used to having church in their busy high school schedule. (the larger part of the reason was about brain development–it’s extremely difficult to talk about faith/the bible/church with concrete thinkers, and the abstract-thinking part of the brain often develops near the end of 8th grade.)

    Parents hated it–felt it was just one more thing to try to cram in to high school. Which, unfortunately, just proved our point that it was important to learn to include church in a busy schedule.

    But it is doable to spread it across two grades. Just be sure you’re clear up front about the summer expectations, especially if they involve cost or travel. I asked kids to do a project–we assigned them a whole book of the Bible (or several, if they were short) and asked them to create something that they could share in 10 minutes. Then in the fall we invited parents, mentors, the education team, and kids to a potluck where the confirmands shared their projects. It was probably the best part of confirmation every year.

  2. Ann Schenck says:

    I ‘d like to throw another monkey wrench into the conversation. We do a great job with the high school activities, why doesn’t that carry over to the college years? Most universities have a campus ministry, how do we get the young people to reach out or do they need assistance? I also think that the leap from HS to College is much bigger. It was for me back in the dark ages.

  3. I have suggested this very concept numerous times! We have yet to implement but am grateful to have someone else to reference that may leverage this idea. Andrew Root has some unique contributions to the conversation, reminded that confirmation should be sacred place for faithful doubt. Unfortunately, most of our confirmands are not even at a point in their development when in 8th grade when they can even know what it is they are either doubting or embracing. We then blitz them through a curriculum, confirm them, and then wave good bye until you have a kid of your own and struggle to return in your late 20’s.

    I sense a blog post of my own coming…

    Related post: http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2012/11/do-youth-trust-adults-response-to.html

  4. Michelle says:

    We have been considering that same option, but with a parent/youth combination mission trip during the summer. Engaging the family in their faith formation.

  5. Hello! I just saw your post on the Christian Century site and wanted to wade in. I’m the Managing Director of Confirm not Conform and as such do a LOT of thinking about confirmation.

    In my experience, the attrition doesn’t have as much to do about the age of the participants as it does about what we think confirmation is about. One of the things we think is extremely important about confirmation is that those going through the process have the option to say, “No I’m not ready to/don’t want to be confirmed.” The very fact of taking a no answer as seriously as a yes answer is an amazingly powerful tool for retention, strangely enough.

    Here are a few other posts I’ve written about confirmation more generally:

    http://confirmnotconform.com/blog/taking-confirmation-seriously

    http://confirmnotconform.com/blog/confirmation-preparation-should-be-conversation-not-information

    http://confirmnotconform.com/blog/what-confirmation-keeping-feast

    Good luck and blessings!

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