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Why most youth confirmation programs don't work
By about age 12, the most important developmental task for youth is to discover one’s own identity. There’s tremendous power in this struggle. Youth can be some of the most amazing revolutionaries, in the best sense of the world: idealistic and inspired to change the world and transform the church.
But historically, most kids don’t seek confirmation on their own – they attend the classes because their parents demand it. And in most confirmation classes, attending generally means you are going to get confirmed. "Confirmation" is about "doing what you're told," rather than completing a rigorous journey of exploration. It’s about conformity from day one. It’s pretty much a guarantee of disengagement and duty.
Where in this approach is the celebration of a teen’s ability to choose? Where is their need – and right - to forge a personal identity? As a result of this approach, kids experience God coming from the outside in, not from the inside out. Talking about God is only lip service and the relationship with God and the church is inauthentic. For healthy and mature people, a relationship built on this kind of falsehood cannot endure.
How Confirm not Conform is different
As we worked with youth, we realized we needed a new message and a new methodology. Our class had to be about respecting the growing empowerment of the youth and the onset of more adult responsibilities. The class needed to show, both in content and form, that we believed them capable of making their own faith choices. Our task was to expose them to ideas, religions, experiences and concepts, and let the Holy Spirit and their own engagement do the rest. Our program needed to focus more on their questions than our answers, and put us in the role of companions and guides rather than instructors.
The result was Confirm not Conform, a program that celebrates young people’s spirituality, creativity and responsibility. Over the course of the CnC program, students come to believe we’re serious about giving them a voice and, when they claim it, the results are amazing. The program not only energizes youth; it strengthens and engages the whole congregation. In allowing our young people to grow, we end up growing our whole community.
In the course of Confirm not Conform, participants will take on three different tasks: Deconstruction, Design, and Construction
- Deconstruction: participants learn that it’s OK to challenge what they have always been told, to look critically at what they have always believed—or always been told to believe.
- Design: participants examine their current beliefs and the beliefs of others, reflecting on why they believe what they do and determining if those beliefs should be kept or discarded.
- Construction: as participants determine which beliefs hold up to examination, they are given opportunities to articulate their faith through word or action.
These tasks overlap and may not happen in a linear fashion; some sessions include two or even all three of these tasks. But the goal is not destruction of faith, but construction. It may not look exactly like the tradition as we currently know it, but it will neither be a mindless parroting of or (negative) reaction to “the way we’ve always done it.”
Secondly, participants are encouraged to reflect, not pressured to perform. We cannot stress enough how important it is that participants choose for themselves whether or not to be confirmed at the end of this program—but that all participants are thanked and celebrated for their honest and deep reflection on their faith and life throughout the program and especially in the iConfirm service.
Finally, youth participants are empowered for service. This does not rest solely on the youth, but on the church leadership as well. Confirm not Conform provides materials to help church councils understand that youth are just as much active members of the church as they are and should be welcomed to take their place in its mission and ministry.
Empowerment is for everyone. That includes you. We don’t ask you to conform to our curriculum. We offer it for your use but encourage you to adapt it, add to it and enrich it, adding your own church’s voice to the process. Asking questions and generating dialogue are at the heart of CnC. We hope you’ll become part of this ongoing dialogue.