The Confirmation Project: Guest Post by Katie Douglass, Co Director of the Confirmation Project

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Traci’s Note: One of the things that always seems strange to me in the protestant tradition is that of confirmation. If done right, I think confirmation can be a rich time where young people grow to understand their faith and their role in it. Many times, though, students report confirmation as a time where they are asked to “jump through hoops,” or are “kicked out of the church.”  It makes me sad and angry to hear stories of young people who are experiencing a normal part of faith development — questioning — and are then made to feel unwelcome in the church. I don’t believe the church should get rid of confirmation, but I do think it needs some serious evaluation and discussion.

Enter the confirmation project. The confirmation project, co directed by Katie Douglass and Richard Osmer is an academic study of confirmation. I can’t tell you what they’ve found yet because, well, they’re still finding it. Read a little from Katie below and if you are interested in participating in the survey, please get in touch with them via www.theconfirmationproject.com  I’ll keep you posted on their findings. This research is important to how we pass on faith to our kids!  

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Katherine M. Douglass, Co-director of The Confirmation Project

Princeton Theological Seminary

December 2, 2014

Thanks for inviting me to share a guest blog post on your website Traci. Like you, I want to help parents and ministry leaders encourage growth in the faith of youth and their families. Confirmation is one of those traditional practices in the church that is meant to do just that. I currently co-direct a research project called The Confirmation Project with Richard Osmer that is aimed at discovering how congregations practice confirmation and equivalent practices. We are interested to discover how participation in confirmation intensifies faith in youth and integrates them into the body of Christ, the church.

For this project we are only studying five mainline Protestant congregations that practice infant baptism: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church. Through the survey and site visits we hope to hear from youth, parents, volunteers, mentors, and ministry leaders.

Every church in these five denominations is invited to participate. If your church has not received an email invitation, you can request one through the “Contact Us” link at our website. www.theconfirmationproject.com

The survey takes 15-20 minutes to complete and asks questions about what people believe, their involvement in the church, their interest in various topics, and what they think the point of confirmation is. The parent and leader survey ask many similar questions and, in a more detailed way, about how confirmation is conducted.

Some confirmation programs happen all year and some happen in the spring. Because of this we are keeping the survey open for almost all of the year (fall 2014-spring 2015). The goal is to have youth, parents, and ministry leaders take the survey at the beginning and at the end of confirmation. We are interested in seeing how participating in confirmation brings about spiritual formation in youth.

This study was inspired by a research project happening in Europe. In some European countries, like Finland, confirmation was something almost everyone participated in (over 80 percent of youth!), however, it did not result in high levels of congregational participation (only 2-3 percent of Finns attend church weekly.) In other countries, like Austria, only 10 percent of youth participate in confirmation, however, those who do are much more likely to be regular members of congregations. This study also showed that confirmation gives youth the opportunity to volunteers in ways that are otherwise inaccessible to them. Their study was very well received and as a result they have been awarded further funding to conduct two more waves of the study.

From talking with ministers and pastors early in our research we are interested in knowing if there is agreement between parents, youth, and ministers as to what “confirmation” actually is. If what we heard from the ministers is correct, there is quite a big disparity between what people think this practice is.

We also believe that we will see a higher correlation between participating in confirmation and being an active church-goer. In the US, congregations seem to have higher levels of retention than in Europe anyway, however, we have a hunch that “believing” and “belonging” will go together (i.e. when youth are convicted about their beliefs, they will be more likely to see these beliefs as part of their identity as a Christian, to belong to a church).

Our goal for this project is to help ministers grow in their awareness of what this practice can or could look like. Many ministers we have talked with feel like they are at a loss as to what they are supposed to be doing.  Many, although not all, feel frustrated that despite their efforts to help youth “confirm” their faith, they are seeing this function as the final graduation for youth out of the church. Some have seen great fruit from their confirmation ministry – and through our site visits, we plan to share these stories. I am hopeful that through our research, we will be able to help those frustrated ministry leaders have the resources they need to change confirmation into a practice that integrates youth into the body of Christ and intensifies their faith.