Monday, November 16, 2009

Confirmation and Membership

One of the great laments I hear from my fellow Presbyterians is our seeming inability to get young folks to hang around. We baptize 'em, raise 'em, confirm 'em, and once we send 'em off to college, we never see them again. Well, maybe on Easter and Christmas, when they show up with their folks with a slightly awkward look on their faces. They do that until they can move out and/or find a job which allows them to pay off the $75,000 in debt they racked up getting their bachelors degree in Postmodern Semiotics from a prominent private liberal arts college.

I hear Target might be hiring. Man, it's tough to be young these days.

Part of bleeding out, I think, comes from the whole approach we take to the "confirmation process." In it, we bundle a group of teens together. Up until this point, they've been a little sub-group of the church, carefully segregated from the adults. They're kids, after all. They do kid stuff, crafts and CE and lock-ins and little mission projects. They hang out with other kids, under the charge of someone who focuses on kids.

We make them take a class on the essentials of Christian faith. We declare proudly that they are affirming their commitment to become a full member of the church. They stand before the whole congregation and affirm their baptism, confirming to one and all that they are, finally, a fully fledged member of the church that has been their home all their lives. There is much celebration, and possibly a bowl of tasty punch.

Then...they go right back to being treated like kids again. It's right back to the same old thing you were doing before. It is empty ritual. There is no meaningful life transition after confirmation. Nothing changes in the way you are expected to live within the church, in a way that totally [poops] all over the purpose and point of confirmation. It's like having to show up to do senior year again after graduating from high school. It's like sleeping alone again on the night after your wedding.

The whole thing is a sham.

I'm trying to shift that a little at my church. The first step is not teaching a confirmation class.

We have a new members class. Period. If you're a teen who's ready to become a member, then you get to have the same experience as older folks who are also joining the church. You get to hear about the faith journeys of your elders. You get to ask your own questions, to surface the struggles you have. You get to be treated as if you are a young person making an important transition into an adult faith. You get to be taken seriously.

That seems important, somehow.


  1. Coming from a Baptist background, I'm not totally familiar with the confirmation process, but I think part of the reason kids stop coming to church when they hit college is also because of life. Life changes dramatically once you hit college, as I'm sure you know. But sometimes, especially with those raised in a church environment, when life hits those kids, suppressed questions are released and the church they were raised in is far away and they feel alone. So they, as young people so often do, and as I did for a brief time, throw the whole church thing out. They come back for Christmas cuz mom and dad expect them to. But their heart isn't in it cuz they feel like the church abandoned them.

    Something I'm really keen on is integrating everyone into the church experience from the beginning. Segregating didn't work for blacks and whites, so what makes us think it's gonna work for ages, ya know?

  2. I think what you are doing is a GREAT idea. Coming from a church who did a profession of faith when you were ready to make that step, I always had a hard time understanding what the point of confirmation was. Especially considering it seemed to not pay attention to whether or not the kids going through it were spiritually ready or even believed in God. Just a thing you do once you reached a certain age. Anyways, I think it needs to be a personal decision, and there is a point at which kids and adults should be interacting as the body of Christ...not separated neatly into age-appropriate groups.

  3. Final freaking lee.

    Kids are adults, people. They happen to be little adults who are innocent, lack fine motor control, lack not so fine motor control, have intermittent hormone rampages, and don't know a whole lot about stuff yet, but they are adults all the same. They have a brain.

    Respect them enough to let them use it.

    I applaud your efforts, Mr. Spear!