As youth leaders, one of our primary goals should be nurturing the faith of our young people in order to foster long-term retention in the church. We want teenage students to develop an appreciation for the importance of their relationship with God. Membership in a congregation should be something they value and wish to continue maintaining throughout adulthood. Youth leaders have a key role to play in this, but families are essential to modeling and supporting ongoing faith.
Too often, it seems, young people view Confirmation as a “graduation” of sorts. Students find themselves busy with sports or school, and the priority of church attendance drops. To avoid this, church involvement must be a precedent for the whole family. The aim and atmosphere of Confirmation should be a welcome, rather than a completion. Parents must be a significant component of Confirmation courses. Facilitating parental involvement in Confirmation makes it less about a “class” and more an avenue for relational development. Churches can implement strategies to incorporate parents in Confirmation in order to encourage long-term participation and spiritual growth.
Why Parental Involvement is so Essential
It might seem obvious but can easily be neglected: parents play a pivotal role in the lives of young people. The 2017 LCMS Millennial Survey indicated that parental relationships and behavior were the most significant impacting factors on retention rate and spiritual influence for Millennials. Our young people learn by observing parental behavior. Families that demonstrate commitment to faith model that priority for students. Including parents in Confirmation process provides them with tools to exhibit their love for the Lord while nurturing that in students, as well. It is also important for parents to be aware of what their children are learning. Direct parental involvement facilitates deeper understanding of material and can then promote family discussion. Students facing doubts or tough questions should be able to approach parents and trust them to have honest conversations.
However, we must recognize that families are unique. Some students might not have both parents at home, or might even be raised by someone other than a mother and father. Many parents may not have a strong church background or feel inadequate to tackle hard questions. This makes it even more essential to make Confirmation a resource for the entire family, whatever family looks like. Parents or guardians can learn alongside students, strengthening their faith as well as the bonds and mentorship opportunities they have for those in their care.
How to Partner with Families for Meaningful Impact
As with all Christian education, there is no “secret formula” that will fit every congregation. Developing and implementing a plan to incorporate parents in Confirmation takes prayerful contemplation. Here are some potential ideas to consider as you prepare a family-centered Confirmation.
- Communicate regularly with parents and students. Middle school students may or may not follow through on delivering messages to parents (does this shock anyone?). Whether or not parents are directly involved in Confirmation, it is vital to provide them with routine updates and information. This can be done through regular emails, printed newsletters, or even group texts. Parents appreciate being informed and also need to remain aware of upcoming lessons and activities.
- Invite (and require) class attendance by parents. It might not be practical or feasible to make weekly parent attendance a must for all families. However, guardians should still be familiar with and aware of course material and class atmosphere. Parents should at least be asked to come to Confirmation once or twice a month. An additional benefit of this requirement is a built-in second adult for security and “crowd control” purposes. Be sure to let parents know ahead of time what expectations are, and if possible provide sign-up opportunities for them to select times that fit their schedules.
- Offer (and perhaps require) courses that instruct and encourage parents. Parenting is a tremendous challenge regardless of what stage children are in, and maintaining relationships with adolescents can be particularly taxing. Provide support for parents through classes or Bible studies that focus on instilling lasting faith in teens. Allow flexibility in timing and plenty of room for parents to receive prayer and care.
- Practice parent-teen exercises for team-building and active listening. If parents are attending weekly Confirmation classes, these activities can be incorporated within the course. Otherwise, schedule an afternoon or a monthly gathering that includes energizing skill-building games and challenges as well as conversational coaching. If possible, offering a weekend retreat at the start and/or completion of Confirmation can provide another opportunity for relational growth.
- Avoid over-scheduling. There are many wonderful possibilities for encouraging family bonds and using a team approach to Confirmation. However, keep in mind that teenagers and parents have multiple commitment. Placing too many requirements on families might seem burdensome and overwhelming. Sometimes keeping things simple is best. Using technology such as video meetings can also sometimes assist timing or transportation issues.
- Use adult testimonies throughout classes. Allow parents to share with the Confirmation class (if they are comfortable doing so) stories of their personal faith journeys. All students can benefit from hearing how Christ has worked in the lives of others and seeing adults who are committed to the Lord. Older congregation members and mentors can also be invited to describe their experiences.
- Provide family challenges and devotions to use throughout the week. These tools can be included within assigned homework, or merely given as an option. Encourage families to engage in “table talk” conversations and to discuss current Confirmation topics. Allow freedom for “family fun night” activities, as well.
- Consider making final evaluation a family effort. Not all congregations prefer a “formal questioning” at the conclusion of Confirmation. If parents have been involved throughout catechesis, think about incorporating them in the culmination as well. Perhaps the final element can include a group discussion. Another possibility is having an informal “teens versus parents” contest preceding Confirmation, to challenge parents as well as students.
Continue Support After Confirmation
It is frequently quoted and displayed on many nursery walls: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). This is a beautiful and critical proverb and encourages us to raise young people in the faith. We recognize, though, that sometimes students do go astray. Growing up in a Christian home might not guarantee lifelong commitment to the church, but it does lay a solid foundation. Even if adolescents wander, that supportive base will be instilled for their hopeful return through the work of the Holy Spirit. A parent’s job is never completed, and initial “training up” continues with constant prayer and love.
Pastors, youth leaders, and congregation members should recognize the importance of ongoing encouragement and instruction. Continue to check in with parents and students in the months and years that follow Confirmation. Provide them with follow-up resources and suggested readings to pursue as individuals and as a family. Set up mentors for students as well as parents, and maintain an environment that nurtures and celebrates families. Communicate with and pray for teens and their parents. We want all people to know and love Jesus.
Confirmation is far more than a class or a rite of passage. It is an opportunity for students to understand and appreciate who they are in Christ. Parental participation provides an avenue for families to grow in this knowledge together, and to strengthen their lifelong relationships with one another and most importantly, with God.
 Relationships Count: Engaging & Retaining Millennials, Concordia Publishing House, 2019, pp. 100–120.