Princeton, NJ, April 1, 2014–Princeton Theological Seminary received a $1.1M grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to fund a study of confirmation practices in five North American Protestant denominations—the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Confirmation Project, Christian Youth: Learning and Living the Faith, will explore the effectiveness of confirmation and equivalent practices for strengthening discipleship in youth. It will also provide churches with examples of strategies and practices to help young Christians grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

“We want to understand how young people make decisions, how they integrate faith into their lives, and how they are initiated to the church,” says Richard Osmer, professor in the Practical Theology Department at Princeton Seminary and one of two codirectors of the project. “We’ll ask questions to explore diverse practices, who participates, and how long confirmation programs are.”

The study comes at a time when demographics in both church and society are changing. Technology will be a key part of the project, according to Katherine Douglass, codirector and post-doctoral fellow at Princeton Seminary. “We want to take advantage of innovations in technology that young people use, like new media and social networks. We are using some of the money from the grant to design an interactive web site for gathering and sharing data and models, and for creating online communities.”

The project’s codirectors, steering committee members, and graduate assistants for each denomination are currently identifying individual congregations to participate in the study. Qualitative research will begin in the fall of 2014, with site visits and a focus on storytelling about confirmation practices. The project will conclude in December 2016.

Osmer says that Princeton Seminary is the logical place to lodge this study because it has historically combined a commitment to excellent scholarship and a strong Ph.D.-level Practical Theology Department, with a deep commitment to the church. “We value research, but the goal is always to help people do better ministry.”

The Confirmation Project is ecumenical and committed to diversity. “We want churches to learn from each other,” says Osmer. “We are thrilled to include the largest African American denomination (AME), and to include research with English-, Spanish-, and Korean-speaking congregations.”

In the end, the goal is to benefit churches and young people. Research outcomes include helping churches gain an understanding of confirmation and equivalent practices across denominations, and helping them assess the expectations and levels of satisfaction of young people, their parents, and ministry leaders. “There are huge gaps between what parents, ministers, and young people think about confirmation,” Osmer says. “We want congregations to close that gap. We hope this research will serve as a basis for a fresh discussion about confirmation and other practices that support discipleship formation of youth.”

For more information, email info@theconfirmationproject.com or visit http://theconfirmationproject.com/.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family—J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli—through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes. More information can be found at www.lillyendowment.org.

Princeton Theological Seminary, founded in 1812, is the first seminary established by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Its mission is to educate leaders for the church of Jesus Christ worldwide, and its more than 500 students and 11,000 graduates from all fifty states and many nations around the world serve Christ in churches, schools and universities, healthcare institutions, nonprofit agencies, initiatives for social justice, mission agencies, and the emerging ministries of the church in the twenty-first century.