The other day, I was asked whether confirmation should be held in the spring or fall – a common question for congregations that offer confirmation. There are pros and cons to each practice.
Confirming teens in the spring gives families a sense of completeness. It’s something they can “finish”, in the same way they finish school.
For those who confirm 8th graders, confirming in the spring also allows you to quickly (and hopefully successfully) transition 8th graders into your high school ministry. We did this at one congregation I served. One week, teens were confirmed. The next, they were invited to begin attending our high school ministry. Even though we made another push to welcome 8th graders into our ministry in the fall, this allowed those who came in the spring to get a taste of our ministry and bond with people. Having those relationships made it much easier for incoming freshmen to walk into our youth ministry for the first time in the fall.
On the flip side, confirming 8th graders in the spring can lead to confusion about what they can and cannot participate in during the summer. For example, can 8th graders participate in your summer trips for high schoolers? If not, it can awkward to try to transition them into a ministry that they are not yet fully able to participate in.
Likewise, fall confirmation offers a similar problem. In my current context, we confirm in the fall of 9th grade, after teens have already begun participating in the high school ministry. It can be awkward for teens to functionally be part of our high school ministry even though they are not yet confirmed.
Families are often frustrated by fall confirmation as well, largely because many churches who confirm in the fall forget to explain WHY they do so.
However, there are good reasons for confirming in the fall as well.
For confirmation ministries with summer requirements like camps or mission trips, a fall confirmation date gives teens an extra summer to complete those requirements.
Fall confirmation can also be timed to coincide with important church holidays. For example, in three of the congregations I’ve served, we’ve confirmed teens on Reformation Sunday, a celebration which many Lutherans find meaningful.
Additionally, it’s much harder to mistake a fall confirmation date as a graduation from one’s faith. Although families typically prefer spring confirmation dates, this gives them a sense of finality – as though once confirmation is done, so is their faith. Churches often (inadvertently) communicate this as well. Many program years wind down in May and we often end our ministries with end-of-the-year celebrations that seem to communicate, “Congratulations! You’re done!” It’s much harder to get this impression in the fall, when most churches have just resumed or started a full session of fall programming.
Again, strong cases can be made for confirming teens in either the spring or the fall. What’s important is not so much WHEN you confirm teens, but that you carefully communicate WHY you confirm them when you do – to confirmands and their parents, certainly, but also to your entire congregation.