A conversation I had this past Sunday:
Me: So, what are you doing later today?
Kid: I don’t know.
Me: Wanna come to confirmation?
Kid: I don’t know….
Me: Aw, it’s not a big deal. You just learn about what the church and faith is about. By the way, are you baptized?
Me: Aw, no biggie. We’ll figure that out later. But I’d like it if ya came and checked it out…..also, you wanna read for a Christmas play next week?
Kid: Uh, no?
Me: C’mon, there’s free BBQ later.
Kid: I’ll do it.
In the midst of leading two struggling congregations that yearn for more youth in their pews, I’ve sort of figured out that when a youth comes through the door, I kinda have to seize the opportunity. And it got me thinking:
What if we thought of confirmation as evangelism?
Now before all the Mainline Liberal Protestant readers go Rachel Held Evans or Nadia Bolz-Weber on me here, bear with me. When I say “evangelism” I mean “witness” – simply sharing with them what the church and what the faith is about, and allowing them to take stock of that, ask questions, and in the end make it their own (even if they choose to do so).
And so I’ve gone that route with my confirmation program. I see it as a mission and a witness – evangelism. And so very roughly, this is what I’ve come up with:
– We meet for “regular” programming with three other churches with small groups once a month, rotating between meeting at the churches. It’s a two-year program. But I don’t make our kids do any written “homework” assignments.
– I then meet with our kids at a coffee shop for follow-up conversation: checking in, and then starting conversation with their impressions of what was discussed at the “regular programming” meeting. (I say starting because the conversation goes all over the place…and it gets to good places too!)
– I’ve asked them (and their parents) to do 1 service opportunity a year. They decide what that is. All I require is that it’s outside of Sunday, and if possible, they do it together as a family. It can be with the church or completely separate from it. I ask for them to give me a one-page journal asking, “Where do they think God was present in that moment, if at all?”
– I’ve asked them to at least try one Synod-sponsored Youth Retreat during their confirmation years.
– And I myself have committed to plugging them into roles in Sunday worship: Assisting Minister, Lighting the Advent Candle, Communion Assistant, Reading for Christmas Program. I’ve even asked them to consider doing the children’s sermon in the future.
– And a “capstone” project that I’ve yet to figure out what that is….but I want it to be something they can use to reflect on their confirmation experience, and express where they are with faith, and in the end, if they even want to be confirmed at all.
And, I’ve told the kids and the parents I can’t make them do any of this. The experience is ultimately what they decide to make of it.
Now I admit, it’s the luxury I have when I only have 6 kids. I’ve done youth ministry in larger congregations and I admit, this would be a challenge….but perhaps we should be thinking about our confirmation as evangelism regardless?
2 of my 6 kids are not members, and their families done even attend the congregations I serve. Two of them come regularly with their families, and the other two are part of a family that just came back and are “checking it out.” The one I just invited this past Sunday, and who knows if she’ll come back. The other came along with one of the two regulars my 3rd Sunday there, and he’s been back ever since, on his own.
I guess my point is this: I think I’m doing confirmation faithfully. They’re getting the knowledge about the faith in our meetings, it’s just I don’t have “course/topic objectives” of what I want to pass on.
But more important, I’m showing them what faith is and what the church is about. And that means they have to sit through things or do things they might not like at first, or at all. But I will expose them to as much of the church as possible…and as many people who are part of the church as well. I want to expose them to as many relationships as possible…and then let them decide.
Above all, my belief is that faith is ultimately a choice – God’s love is always unconditional, grace is always extended – but you have to choose to live into that good news. And I want kids to know that, but also to know, the church is a place where they have a place and something to offer – and that the church (not God, for the sake of salvation) needs them to live into that.
And honestly, that’s all I can really do – provide the opportunity. Because it’s God that plants and nurtures the see of faith. (See how Lutheran I am!)
So there you have it. Confirmation as Evangelism. And hey, since I live in a place where evangelism is often about numbers, I’ve increased my confirmation group by 300% in two months! (Proving you can make objective “data” say what ever you want it to!)
Yikes…I think I just cursed myself to fail.