Although most people in western culture have heard of confirmation, misconceptions about both the classes before the rite of confirmation and the rite itself abound. Interestingly, two of these misconceptions are opposite sides of the same coin. While some people mistakenly think of confirmation classes as the beginning of a young person's Christian education, others incorrectly conclude that the rite of confirmation marks the end of a young person's Christian education.
Confirmation is not the beginning of a person's Christian education.
Some families bring their children to be baptized as infants and then are almost completely absent from the congregation until it is time for their children to be confirmed. They may assume that children are not able to understand spiritual things or they may just see Baptism as an immunization against hell and confirmation as a necessary booster shot. In reality, Baptism is the first step in a child's daily, life-long journey of faith. If parents are not actively helping their children build a relationship with God by studying their Bibles, learning to pray and participating in a congregation, then they are essentially teaching their children that these things are not important. Prov. 22:6 tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." We would not dream of expecting our children to survive on formula from a bottle until they were in the sixth grade. Likewise, children need daily, age-appropriate spiritual food long before they are ready for confirmation.
Confirmation is also not the end of a person's Christian education.
Many young people and their parents think of the rite of confirmation as a graduation from Sunday school. It is important to help confirmands, their families and the congregation understand that confirmation instruction provides only a very basic foundation on which people are meant to keep building their faith daily for the rest of their lives. While publicly confessing one's faith during the rite of confirmation marks an important milestone in a child's spiritual life, this milestone is nowhere near an end point of faith development. Most teens will struggle to hold on to their young faith if the adults in their lives do not continue to emphasize the importance of worship, Holy Communion, prayer, Bible study and participation in a congregation. In Heb. 10:23-25, we are told, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." We must remember that Christian parents are not just their children's parents but are also brothers or sisters in Christ to their children. Confirmation is not the end of a child's Christian education and it is not the end of parents' responsibility to nurture their children's faith.
The best way to overcome misconceptions about confirmation is to create a culture of life-long Christian education in your congregation.
Emphasize Baptism as the Beginning of a Child's Christian Education
When children are baptized, make a point to clarify that they have become members of the body of Christ and of the congregation. Provide parents with resources to help their young children grow in faith at home. If you have a church library, be sure to invite parents of young children to use the library and take the time to show them around and explain how they can borrow books and other resources.
Maintain a Functional Church Library
Many congregations have at least one shelving unit set aside as a library. However, these "libraries" are often a random collection of books donated by members over the years. There are often several inappropriate, outdated or theologically incorrect books mixed in among a disorganized collection of resources that could be helpful if anyone knew they were there. A good solution is to form a library committee which can, with the help of your pastor, decide on guidelines for what kinds of books and other resources will be included in the library. The library could include concordances, Bible dictionaries, devotions for all ages, picture books, young adult books, fiction, books on marriage and Christian parenting, DVDs, music CDs and any other resource that would help congregation members grow in faith. In your newsletter or bulletin, include book reviews, notices about new books and recommendations about seasonal books. Make sure everyone in the congregation knows how to check out resources from your library. Include library time in your Sunday school hour, confirmation class time or youth group time. If possible, relocate the library to a high-traffic area of your church building so that people are more likely to remember it is available.
Provide Christian Education Opportunities for All Ages
Families tend to drop away from church attendance between the time their children are baptized and the time when those children become old enough for a preschool Sunday school class. They may think they are just taking a break from church while their children are small, but many of them get so out of the habit of church attendance that they never do come back, or only come back for a couple of years while their children are going through confirmation classes. Consider adding a babies and parents Sunday school class so parents can bring their babies along with them to class, pray for their children together, pray for the other parents and have a short hands-free Bible study in which all Bible verses are projected on a wall. Help recently confirmed young people transition to youth group. Help graduating youth transition to a young adult or adult Bible study group. Provide a weekday Bible study option for adults so that Sunday school teachers and people who work on Sunday can also have an opportunity for a weekly Bible study.
Help Confirmands Transition From Confirmation to Youth Group
Your youth group could host a confirmation party for the confirmands to welcome them to youth group. Some youth groups have a tradition of kidnapping the confirmands and taking them out for ice cream or for some other fun activity as a welcome to youth group. If you have a youth room, you could have a membership wall or a membership book where new members get to design a tile or a page that includes their names, the date they started attending youth group, a favorite Bible verse and personal artwork that shares their faith. You could make it a tradition that confirmands are invited to put their names on the wall or in the book on the day they are confirmed or at a confirmation party hosted by the youth group. Youth group leaders could pair each newly confirmed young person with an older member of the youth group as a mentor and encourager who will help the confirmand stay connected and involved with youth group through the summer and through their first year in youth group.
Teach Confirmands and Youth About How the Church is Run
Most of our Christian education focuses on the Bible, but part of our lives as Christians also include keeping a church running smoothly. Young people will be more likely to regularly attend worship and stay connected to a congregation if they feel included and needed. Arrange times for each board, guild or other group in your congregation to meet with the confirmands and/or youth to teach them how congregation members share their unique gifts, skills and interests to keep the church running smoothly. The altar guild and elders could show them where communionware, linens and flowers are stored and explain how these items are handled. The trustees and janitor could explain how they repair, maintain and clean the church. The financial secretary, money counters and board of stewardship could explain how your congregation handles offering, offering envelopes, paying bills, keeping records, managing gifted funds, etc. Your pastor and any other professional church workers could explain what kind of education they completed and describe the various things they do during their work week. Young people could even be allowed to serve in an apprentice role by doing things like cleaning or polishing items, helping with a repair project, putting new offering envelopes in congregational mail boxes, photocopying bulletins, making stewardship posters, going on a nursing home visit with the pastor, etc. You might even choose to require that each confirmand complete a service project or a certain number of apprentice hours before being confirmed.
Confirmation is an important milestone in a young person's faith development, but it should never be treated as either a beginning or an end.