Presbyterian Church educators discuss future of confirmation curriculum

‘The Confirmation Project’ to study effectiveness of discipleship programs

February 12, 2016

Gordon Mikoski, associate professor of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary, presents at the 2016 APCE meeting in Chicago. Mark Hinds (seated in blue shirt, left) also presented during ‘The Confirmation Project’ workshop.

Gordon Mikoski, associate professor of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary, presents at the 2016 APCE meeting in Chicago. Mark Hinds (seated in blue shirt, left) also presented during ‘The Confirmation Project’ workshop. —Emily Enders Odom

CHICAGO

Mark Hinds remembers the effect that confirmation had both on himself and his brothers.

“In our family, it had a 30 percent success rate,” Hinds told a room full of Christian educators at the 2016 Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) gathering here. “I’m still in the church, my brothers aren’t.”

As heads nodded knowingly in response to Hinds’s admission, the room started humming with many questions about the efficacy and the future direction of the confirmation process in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The January 30 workshop, “Dreaming: New Confirmation Curriculum,” co-led by Mark Hinds, Ed.D., interim publisher for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Congregational Ministries Publishing, and the Rev. Dr. Gordon Mikoski, associate professor of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary was one of some 60 offerings at APCE’s annual event, held from January 27–30 in downtown Chicago.

Mikoski began his part of the presentation by introducing workshop participants to the ongoing work of “The Confirmation Project,” which “seeks to learn the extent to which confirmation and equivalent practices in five Protestant denominations are effective for strengthening discipleship in youth.” In addition to the PC(USA), the participating denominations include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the United Methodist Church.

“It’s an open-ended collaborative effort,” said Mikoski, inviting attendees to visit the project’s website and take part in the study. “We want you to help shape the answers and the future direction.”

Mikoski said that the study was undertaken because the “anecdotal evidence is that confirmation is not really working like it used to.”

“People on the ground have the sense that unless they have groundbreaking stuff, the old way isn’t working anymore,” he said. “They’re looking for some sort of ‘magic curriculum,’ but there are much deeper issues that have to be looked at.”

Mikoski said that the denominations are studying confirmation now because so much has changed, especially the way that people communicate and learn. He said in his own teaching, he started sensing a change about five years ago.

In presenting some of the ongoing study’s early research findings, he shared that the PC(USA) is at the bottom of the list of denominations with respect to general requirements for confirmation—length of individual sessions and duration of overall program—with Lutherans at the top.

“Thirty percent of our programs are three months are less; 30 percent are 3-6 months,” said Mikoski. “At least a third of our programs are only 6 weeks. We keep lowering the bar.”

In studying what type of confirmation curricula denominations currently use—independently published, self-written, non-denominational—Mikoski said that there are “significant implications for rolling out new curriculum.”

Mikoski walked attendees through the evolution—a timeline—of confirmation practices in the church.

“Confirmation arose out of a fracture in baptism in the early church,” he explained. “You’d do the water part, and then later, you got the baby to the bishop to do the confirmatio. Over the years that rift grew and became farther and farther apart.”

Today there is “a great deal of confusion and frustration” about the theology of confirmation and a lot of diversity in its practice.

“It has been that way for 1,000 years,” said Mikoski. “Maybe we can rethink it.”

One of the research’s key findings that Mikoski shared was that in passing religion from generation to generation, the most important factor is the parents, especially the role of the father.

“Parents are, for good or for bad, the most effective religious educators of their children,” he said. “Our task, therefore, is not to come up with a shiny new curriculum but to help instruct parents. There’s a larger ecology; we have to target the parents, to help them to reclaim their primary vocation to be teachers of the faith.”

After Hinds invited participants to break into small discussion groups—and to tweet their comments and questions to #PCUSA_Confirm—Mikoski followed up with an in-depth presentation on the neuroscience of cognition.

As the workshop closed, Hinds and Mikoski laid out the proposed schedule for the publication of a new confirmation curriculum. “The advisory team will begin to develop it in the fall,” said Mikoski. “Fall 2018 is when you can look forward to a new denominational curriculum. So please go to the website and say you want to participate.”

  1. I found the curriculum to be sound but its effectiveness depended upon a couple of important things at FPC Hastings...when it was tied to one on one mentors, it had an engaging mission component, parents were asked to participate, confirmation service was spiritually and personally engaging Ps. at the other churches I served for previous 30 years, I taught a three year program that was capped by one week Confirmation Camp centered on Community/Personal faith formation...of the over 390 confirmands 60% are still Presbyterians, 20% are members of other Protestant churches, 15% are Roman Catholics (principally by marriage) 2% decided not to be confirmed, 3% have left practicing the faith altogether but I have remained in contact with most of them or their families.

    by William G. Nottage-Tacey

    February 15, 2016

  2. I retired 23 years ago from pastoral ministry, after spending 33 years in it. Confirmation materials changed a lot during that time, but got increasingly less relevant to our parish's teaching-learning situation. In collaboration with a church member who was a high school guidance counsellor, I developed in the 1980s a program that worked well for us. Unfortunately, it didn't get much consideration by the denominational official to whom I presented it. The program was designed for youth in 9th and 10th grades, including one-hour weekly sessions, lasting two academic years, with the first year dealing with Presbyterian essentials and the second year dealing with developmental issues, focused on the theme, "Powers and Choices." Something like that approach, updated as appropriate, might be worth considering.

    by Philip Weiler

    February 14, 2016

  3. For some 20 years I produced a radio program called Open Door in which we used the writings of youth and young adults and matched their insights with some of the popular music. Perhaps today's curriculum could gain similar insights from the music and from youth themselves on these deeper meaningful issues.

    by Bud Frimoth

    February 12, 2016