So you've prepped for confirmation until you could prep no more, presenting to your bishop youth and adults who were ready, willing, and able to make a mature affirmation of faith. The iConfirm service went off without a hitch. Parents beamed, the congregation congratulated you, and finally you had a week when you didn't have a class to lead.
And so here I am, party pooper extraordinaire, to suggest that now is the perfect time to take some extra steps with your confirmands to ensure that confirmation is not a terminal moment for those who have taken this step in faith.
Although I include some specific steps to take, I'd like to think of these more as four general practices that you can incorporate whatever way seems best to you as a way to continue the work you have already done with those who have been confirmed. If you do any of these, I am convinced the response will be tremendous.
For anyone who has been through a powerful experience, it's good to have a little time afterward to consider what happened, what it felt like, and what it meant. This is not the same as evaluation (as you'll see below). Reflection is a chance to mull over what was meaningful; evaluation is about what worked and what didn't.
You may want to do some reflecting yourself on what the confirmation preparation process meant to you. But be sure to also want to find ways to have confirmands reflect on the experience. Have an informal gathering to talk about the experience. Encourage mentors to meet with confirmands again to reflect on things. Write confirmands a note with a question for them to consider.
And remember that reflection doesn't all have to happen right now. Send out a "save the date" card for a confirmation reunion 6 months or a year from now; at that time, again invite reflection on the whole confirmation process. The experience may not be as raw and immediate, but it may be deeper for having some time to settle into their bones.
As I mentioned above, evaluating is different from reflecting. Evaluating gives participants a chance to own the process by giving feedback and an honest critique. In evaluation, you offer people a chance to share what worked and what didn't.
This is sometimes scary if you're worried that people are going to criticize you. Part of your work in allowing people to evaluate the program is separating your worth as a person from the success or failure of a program. You are not your program! You are not even your presentation of the program. Please remember that when you take the risk of allowing people to evaluate. But know that evaluation is a fantastic way to empower participants -- and that gives them further ownership of the confirmation process.
You might want to create an online survey with SurveyMonkey or a similar service. You may wish to mail paper evaluations to participants. Maybe you can have a get-together that is part reflection and part evaluation. Sometimes simply giving people the option to give feedback is all the empowerment they need or want.
If you create an evaluation, make your questions specific. For example, "Did you like your confirmation classes? Yes/No" is not as helpful to you as "Classes were too short/too long/just about right" and other variables that are (more or less) under your control. It's also good to offer space for people to write their own comments, which may get to some issues you didn't know existed.
Try not to be defensive even if the feedback is "I hated it." Try to get to the concrete and specific issues or actions that cause the reaction. This doesn't mean you need to make all the changes people suggest. But take feedback seriously. And remember hating it does not mean hating you (and for that matter loving it doesn't mean loving you either!).
Thank participants for their contributions even after the confirmation is over. It's really good for confirmands to know that they were not merely confirmands to you, but people with contributions to make -- and more to come. I imagine there's something a little jarring about being part of a really tight-knit group for months, talking about deep important stuff, and then feeling like it all drops away once confirmation is over. A simple "thank you for being part of that experience. I hope you will find a way for the work you've begun to continue" can mean a lot.
Along with thanking confirmands for what they have contributed, invite them to the next step you see in their ministry. Again, specificity can be really powerful. Was someone really good at skits or drama? Invite that person to become a lector or reader. Was someone very pointed in criticizing the church? Ask what should change and how. Did someone text in class all the time? Ask that person to tweet your church services!
You don't need to be the one doing the inviting directly; tell ministry leaders about the great potential recruit you have for their ministries. Encourage ministry leaders to talk to confirmands about how they can get involved. This may mean a culture shift to get adult leaders to see the youth leaders already among them, ready and eager to be part of the life of the church. Remind the church as a whole to keep confirmands in mind in their recruiting efforts, and remind confirmands that they are fully empowered to step up when there is work they see that needs to be done.
Keep the momentum going to engage confirmands, building on the gifts you've seen them demonstrate during the time they were preparing to be confirmed. There's no reason confirmation needs to be the high water mark for engagement in the mission of the church. As I'm sure you've seen, the church's ministers of all ages have so much to offer. It is crazy to let that slip away.
What other practices or activities do you suggest for reaching out and supporting confirmands?