Four reasons youth hate confirmation classes

As some of you may know, each Sunday we retweet what people are reporting about their confirmation classes. These tweets run the gamut from “I love my confirmation class” to “Shoot me now”—usually more of the latter.

Last Sunday, after the usual mix of despondent confirmands posted on their misery, @DeaconEm540 asked

I’m glad she asked. I’m curious for your thoughts as well, but as I’ve been pondering the question this week, here are some initial ideas – hunches, really – with Twitter illustrations.

We take their attendance for granted

I think it’s important, first of all, to acknowledge that we really are asking for a significant sacrifice from youth and parents. And, yes, we are working very hard to offer them something of value, but if we look at it from their perspective, we can recognize that giving up 2 hours (or so) of your valuable free time is no small thing.

I do wonder if we sometimes take the commitment of the youth who come to confirmation class for granted. We can make them come because attendance is required for this thing we call confirmation. Think about how hard it is to get regular participation at a Lenten series, how much effort we put into creating it, publicizing it, getting everything in order, and still it’s difficult to get people to make that extra commitment – for six weeks.

What would happen if we took a moment at the beginning of our next confirmation class to say how much we appreciated that they came, and that we know that it was a gift and a sacrifice on their part? 

We talk at them, not with them

I’ve written about this before in the post Confirmation preparation should be conversation not information and I think that still holds true. We mistakenly think that the most important thing is to “tell them what they need to know.”

Lecturing is not the same thing as teaching. Lecture is a tremendously efficient way to share a lot of information, but it’s an extremely inefficient way for people to learn. I suspect many of those tuning out in the confirmation classes I hear about on Twitter are getting tons of information thrown at them in a short period of time. Which leads to my next hunch.

 We’re trying to get it all in now while we can

Again, I’ve written about this in What is confirmation for? Keeping the feast but it’s worth reiterating: confirmation preparation is not about prepping for a final exam. They don’t need to know everything about the Christian faith and life and history and Bible and theology and their denomination by the time Confirmation rolls around. In fact, they won’t. No one ever does.

We think too many things are essential to the confirmation process. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. We need to keep reminding ourselves that confirmation is a chance for “those baptized at an early age…to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism.” So what does that require? I’d argue that this means they need to be able to articulate what their faith is, to know what are the responsibilities of Baptism, and to be able to say whether or not they want to carry these out.

What’s essential to being able to articulate your faith? I think that’s the subject of another blog post! But it does bring me to my final point for now. 

We assume they don’t know anything

Is there anything worse than being treated like an idiot? Youth are not a blank slate. When they come in to our confirmation on the very first day, they already have beliefs and knowledge. Those who have been baptized and raised in the church will already know a great deal. Again, confirmation is about affirming a faith that they already have. When we start from a position of “I am the expert,” we lose out on the opportunity to be formed in faith by one another.

But many of the youth I have known are passionate and faithful people. It was wonderful to approach them from a position of mutual respect. I loved to hear what they had to say and gained a lot from doing so.  Why would I want to listen to myself natter on all the time when there’s such fascinating insights lurking in the brains of the people around me?

Overall, I wonder if it is our own pride that makes confirmation class such a bore for so many people: pride in our expertise and knowledge, and a sense of our superiority. The good news, here, is that we can change. If we change our attitude and our approach to confirmation preparation, I firmly believe that those who participate will find the whole process worth their time.

P.S. Those of you who already know our program Confirm not Conform know that we do our best to avoid these four pitfalls - though after writing this, I think we could do better on number 1. If you don't know what we're up to, I invite you to take a look at a sample lesson and see what you think. It's from the Episcopal version of the curriculum, but the content remains mostly the same for all five versions.

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Comments

Thank you for thinking about this with me

Since the time I posted my questions, I have been asking them of nearly everyone I come in contact with who is involved in church. I feel passionately about youth involvement in church and it breaks my heart when I see them so disconnected. I want to understand why this is happening. I grew up deeply involved in my home congregation along with many other young people. We were a fellowship within our larger congregation. Many of us had been together since childhood. We had meaningful roles to play in the life of our church and were treated as valued contributors. Church was one of the first places where I felt like a leader.

The comments and insights you have shared and others are sharing are helping me see where we might be missing the mark. As adults, I think we need to slow down and take the time needed to delegate responsibility to youth. Sometimes it is faster to do things ourselves. However, faster is not always better. As role models, we need to let them see us active in worship, generous in giving of ourselves to outreach, positive in our talk about church life. Children live what they learn.

Thank you for thinking about this with me. You have made me dig deep within myself to look at how I approach confirmation and working with young people.

Yours in His Service,
The Reverend Emmetri Monica Beane
Deacon
St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church
Leesburg, VA