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The Ecology of Faith Formation
A Review of
Cultivating Teen Faith:
Insights from the Confirmation Project
Richard Osmer / Katherine Douglass, Eds.
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2018
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Reviewed by Daniel Ogle
The good news – and there is plenty of good news shared in Cultivating Teen Faith – is that when it comes to teenagers participating in confirmation, they are participating by and large in order to form a stronger connection with God.
Cultivating Teen Faith, edited by Richard Osmer and Katherine Douglass, is an interpretation of a three-year study of how over 3000 Christian congregations guide teenagers through an intentional process of Christian formation under the broad heading of confirmation.
The research the book draws upon makes clear that a large majority of those seeking to be confirmed are not showing up at church because their parents told them to or in search of another activity to include on their college applications.
Instead, more than eighty percent of teenagers surveyed claimed that their primary motivation for participating in a church’s confirmation program was, “To come to my own decision about my faith in God,” and more than seventy percent agreed with the statement that their participation was, “an important step in growing up.”
Although the research reminds us that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to confirmation or a single program that will work in every place, there are universal insights beneficial for every community.
An insight worth repeating is that the most significant driver of faith formation of teenagers is the religious environment created at home. The research reminds us that families which model spiritual practices at home create space for children and youth to believe, behave, and belong in the Christian tradition.
“Young people,” the authors note, “reporting consistently strong faith in the home were nearly seven times more likely to be strong in their religious beliefs, over six times more likely to behave in a manner consistent with Christian teaching and nearly five times more likely to feel like they belong and are integral to (versus simply attending) a faith community.”
Case in point, family prayer at bedtime is the spiritual practice that formed the strongest correlation to Christian belief. Prayer at bedtime made a stronger impact, according to the study than worship attendance. As the authors suggest, “If we want our children to grow in faith and develop a sense of belonging to the Christian community, one of the most important things we can do is pray with them every night before bed.”
The report offers many significant practices that confirmation planners, church leaders, and families could apply when considering how to shape and form Christian faith in the lives of young people. The overarching claim that the authors of Cultivating Teen Faith make, however, is a truth that applies to ministries of any age level.
Confirmation should not be understood as a stand-alone ministry, but youth and their families increase their belief, behavior, and belonging in Christian communities when confirmation is part of a broader culture and ecology of faith formation and Christian discipleship.
Confirmation, they assert, is not something to be checked off before moving on to something else, but functions best as a practice of discipleship that connects youth and their families to authentic expressions of faith within the worshipping and serving congregation.
“When congregations pursue faith formation ministries along these lines, they bear witness to the redemptive love of God and the covenant of grace into which all Christians are baptized. Each person receives the opportunity to hear Jesus’ call to the disciples in a new way: come and follow me.”
Daniel Ogle is an Associate Minister at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.