Our Seniors Aren’t Ready!
It doesn’t matter where you find yourself on the theological spectrum, there is huge concern regarding the complete abandonment of the Christian faith by our youth group students when they leave for college. There are movies like Divided, which see youth ministry as the main culprit for this loss of faith. And there are books like Sticky Faith, which want to reshape and redirect youth ministries to work more closely within the churches that fund them and alongside the parents of their community.
For as long as I can remember, there has always been an enormous exodus of students from the church the second they leave the comfort and confines of home and experience a world where there are no more boundaries, no more rules and no more accountability to their former way of life. I find the statistics overwhelming and the actual students who choose to walk away heartbreaking. While I can not solve all the cultural or ecclesiological problems that contribute, I can be more proactive and intentional in the way I do student ministry so that my students have a fighting chance when they head off into the big, bad world.
Historically, Confirmation Was the Tool
I was brought up in a Christian tradition that included something called confirmation. This was a class that was offered for 7th graders who were interested in joining the church. At least, this is how I understood it at the time. As an adult, I have come to see that confirmation is the specific time the church makes space for kids who have grown up in the church and/or have been baptized as infants to “confirm” the faith as their own.
Up until this point, it is assumed that the faith they have has been passed down from their family. And now, as 7th graders, they take an intentional step forward proclaiming that the faith they were brought up in is no longer just their parents’ but is now their own.
Whether or not your church has an active confirmation program, it is an idea that is worth consideration and possibly even revisioning. The presupposition with confirmation is that faith in Jesus Christ is a personal decision. It cannot be passed on through blood. At some point, children, adolescents or adults must take personal responsibly for their faith and affirm it as their own. Confirmation is the process that affirms the faith of the family, the teachings of the church, and encourages 7th graders to take hold of the faith as their own.
The problem that I have with this process is that 7th grade doesn’t seem like the right age for students to own their faith separate from their parents. In fact, it has been my experience that most kids who participate do so at the strong request of their parents. With the lengthening of adolescence, it is safe to say that 7th graders 30 years ago are dramatically different than 7th graders today. They are still firmly in early adolescence with the culmination of individuation needing another 15 years or so to mature.
Seventh graders are at the very beginning of identity formation. Because of this fact, they are totally unable to develop a faith that is separate from that of their parents. I am not saying they are unable to have faith at this age. I am simply saying that their faith is intimately tied to that of their parents.
Instead of throwing out confirmation because it doesn’t seem to work for 7th graders, what if we simply took that concept and applied it to the demographic who is most able to wrestle through the issues that come up in confirmation.
A Confirmation Designed Specifically for Seniors
Seniors in high school are firmly in mid-adolescence and are fully wrestling with who they are. Identity formation is in high gear as students are continually reshaping who they are, where they fit in and what sort of contribution they are going to make. As seniors, they are getting ready to launch into college, where they will have unlimited options to work this out.
A confirmation designed specifically for seniors gets to walk with a group of students who statistically are getting ready to bail on their faith and gets to identify the potential pitfalls they will face and give them the tools they will need to navigate this new world.
By starting with the end in mind, we are able to craft a program/class/small group (whatever term you find easiest to swallow) that will be able to maintain seniors’ interest in youth group and the church, allow space for difficult questions, equip them for their future, celebrate them in the church and launch them into the world.
How We Do It
This is the plan that we have come up with to pull off confirmation with our seniors:
1) Go on a Road Trip: Trying to communicate this idea is pretty difficult in a Sunday school or youth group setting. So we communicate this idea on a state-wide road trip that is full of fun and adventure. While we are on this trip, we use our program time to clarify the expectations of our seniors. We say out loud that youth group is not for them. So when they feel bored, they are feeling the right things. Youth group is for the younger students, and their job is to set the tone for the group and be our leaders. Since youth group is not for them, we have come up with a special monthly dinner for just seniors to wrestle with their faith and how to make it their own.