Confirmation as Evangelism (& not as “conversion” – calm down Mainliners)

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?

Kid: Nope.

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.

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2 Comments

Filed under Missional Thinking & The Church, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Confirmation as Evangelism (& not as “conversion” – calm down Mainliners)

  1. Aaron –
    I’m interested in how this plays out over time. I think you have hit on a few key points that are worth pondering. First, I love the multi-facet nature of what you propose. Some of which is “just for them” and some is integrated into the life of the congregation and some is with their family. I think, ideally, that’s what a life of faith entails. Second, I appreciate the idea of witness, especially in our religiously pluralistic culture. I don’t think people know what the church says about itself…and how is one to be part of a community if they don’t know what they believe. So…witness is first the church being a witness to the young people. But there is another aspect of witness that is taking place here. The young people are being witnesses of the faith…even if they are not yet sure about it. And I love what that means…we aren’t witnesses of faith ONLY WHEN WE GET IT…we are witnesses of faith even as we learn about it, question it, and try to live into and out of it. That’s also right on the money, as I see it. (And perhaps it gives parents the right message too!) And finally, I think the idea of working with young people already connected to a congregation (in some way) and coming because they were invited is right on. I had such an experience in a large congregation…and it opens up great conversations and challenges all kinds of assumptions we “church people” get stuck in.
    So…keep working it and let me know how it transpires.
    Terri Elton

    • You identified something that is right on: the kids are a witness to the rest of the congregation. They’re pointing out some of the things that don’t make sense as “outsiders” but pointing to ways and attitudes that run contrary to what God calls the church to be.

      The best part is that the only truly new folks are the friends the youth are inviting….and that says something to the adults in a BIG way.

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