What if getting people confirmed is not what we want?

Here’s a true story*: Once there was a company that wanted to measure the effectiveness of its customer service. In order to do so, the management team decided to count how many customer phone calls their customer service representatives answered each day.

A consultant was brought in to help them maximize the efficiency of their customer service reps. When he learned that what they wanted to do was answer as many phone calls as possible, he told them he knew exactly what to do, and asked to demonstrate. Sitting in a cubicle, he waited until the phone rang, answered it, and promptly hung up without saying a word.

The management team was aghast, but the consultant said to them that if they only wanted to answer as many phone calls as possible, this is what you should do. But he suspected they wanted to measure how many customers were satisfied, not how many calls got answered. It was only when the company knew exactly what it was they wanted that they were able to get the best result.

I think one of the issues we have with confirmation in our churches is that we’re not quite clear on what we want. Since we’re not clear on what we want, we’re not clear on what to do to get it.

I mean, if what we want is just to get people confirmed, why go through all the bother of preparation? Why not just have people show up on the day of, go through the motions, and stick to the script? Like simply hanging up the phone, it would get the job done. But clearly that’s not what we want or we wouldn’t be worried about getting people to attend confirmation classes – or looking for the best curriculum!

So what is it we actually want? Let me pose for you a list of things we might really be looking for (or at least that are important to us at Confirm not Conform):

  • People with a mature faith, who know the fundamentals of the religion they practice;
  • Youth who remain engaged in church through their teen years and beyond;
  • Congregational growth and transformation;
  • An exploration and application of values, morality, and ethics;
  • A deeper connection to one’s own beliefs and to others in the faith community;
  • What else would you add?

I haven't yet met a person in ministry who didn't want those going through confirmation preparation to get one or all of the things listed above. At the same time, too often I hear of these essential parts of faith development take a back seat to the timeline of the Bishop's visit, or the need to Get Them Confirmed.

It seems to me that confirmation itself is a side benefit of these more fundamental things. When people are affirmed in their faith by their faith community, this is only the outward and visible sign of the work of a maturing faith and ongoing transformation, not the end in itself. Confirmation, like answering the phone, is only part of the process, not the goal.

So as you think about your confirmation programs and planning, be sure to think through what it is you actually want. Clarify that in your mind. Pick your curriculum and design your program around what you’re actually trying to accomplish. If you’re trying to get different results from what you’ve gotten in the past, your confirmation program may look very different from its current form. It may not fit in the right timeline. It may not be at a certain age. It may not be only for those who are not yet confirmed. But if you know what you want, make your confirmation program conform to your essential goals for those who will be part of it. That’s courageous, and also important, because the number of confirmations doesn’t matter if confirmation makes no difference in people’s lives.

*this really is a true story!