Christian Youth: Learning and Living the Faith

A Lilly Endowment Inc. Funded Research Project

Research Summary and Design

Brief Executive Summary by Katherine M. Douglass and Richard R. Osmer


The Christian Youth: Learning and Living the Faith Project (CY: LLF) seeks to learn the extent to which confirmation and equivalent practices (CEP) in five Protestant denominations in North America are effective for strengthening discipleship in youth. These denominations include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the United Methodist Church. It seeks to provide Christian leaders with examples of good practice and with strategies that are effective in helping young Christians grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. Strengthening discipleship includes nurturing faith in Jesus Christ and facilitating youth encounters with Christian traditions (Scripture, creeds, confessions, and practices) to support lifelong Christian vocation.


Leadership for the grant includes two co-directors and a steering committee made up of five practical theologians representing the five denominations.

Katherine M.Douglass, Princeton Theological Seminary, PC(USA)
Richard R. Osmer, Princeton Theological Seminary, PC(USA)

Steering Committee:
Reginald Blount, Garret Evangelical Seminary, AME
Lisa Kimball, Virginia Theological Seminary, Episcopal Church
Terri Elton, Luther Seminary, ELCA
Gordon Mikoski, Princeton Theological Seminary, PC(USA)
Kenda Dean, Princeton Theological Seminary, UMC

Graduate Research Assistants:
Shonda Gladden, doctoral student, Garret Evangelical Seminary, AME
Kate Obermueller Unruh, doctoral student, Princeton Theological Seminary, UMC
Peter Bauch, doctoral student, Luther Seminary, ELCA
Kate Sibernas, Masters of Divinity candidate, Virginia Theological Seminary, Episcopal Church
Sylvia Bull, Masters of Divinity candidate, Princeton Theological Seminary, PC(USA)
Jacob Sorenson, doctoral student, Luther Seminary, Confirmation camp ministries

Primary Objectives:


This study will carry out empirical research on CEP across five denominations through two waves of quantitative data collected from ministry leaders, parents, and youth participants. It will supplement this quantitative research with qualitative data gathered through focus groups and participant observation. 


It will identify examples of CEP that are innovative and formative, with the aim of discerning insights and practices that might be transferred to other congregations.


It will identify congregations of best practice for further study.


It will develop new pedagogical approaches and resources for CEP that take account of the challenges of the new media, social networks, and other developments impacting young people.


It will offer new theological thinking about CEP, inviting congregations to think in fresh ways about the nature of Christian discipleship, vocation, and the nature and purpose of the church as a community of disciples called to participate in the mission of God.


It will serve as a catalyst of discussion, virtual communities, and peer relationships for practitioners involved in CEP.


It will disseminate the findings of this study through articles, monographs, webinars, conferences, and an interactive website.

Primary audience

         This research is targeted to benefit practitioners and ministry leaders in congregations. It strives to offer them an accurate picture of CEP practice, to clarify the theological purpose of CEP, and to offer new resources and examples of good CEP practice. The overarching goal is strengthening discipleship formation through CEP.

Secondary audience

         In addition to ministry practitioners leaders, we believe this research will benefit leaders of denominations providing guidance to the educational ministry of their church and professors in seminaries and divinity schools teaching in the area of CEP, as well as Christian education generally.

Project Design:
Phase One

         First, two waves of quantitative data will be gathered through surveys of youth, parents, and ministry leaders in order to (1) create a map of current practices, (2) compile a list of resources being used, the frequency of their usage, and the level of satisfaction youth, parents, and ministry leaders have with these resources, (3) identify congregations that exemplify best practices, (4) gather data regarding congregational involvement, and (5) measure the extent of discipleship strengthening. Data will be collected from ministry leaders in the first wave only.

         Second, qualitative data will be gathered through focus groups and interviews in twenty-five congregations, five from each denomination of youth, parents, and ministry leaders in order to (1) gain further insight into the motivations for participation in confirmation programs, (2) determine the goals and outcomes of confirmation programs, (3) assess their effectiveness in forming disciples, and (4) collect information regarding the kind and type of resources that would be most beneficial to youth, parents, and ministry leaders.

Phase Two

         Third, we will identify twenty “best practice” congregations representing the five denominations who will be paired with a GRA. Congregations will then work with GRA’s to share their confirmation programs through our website. We anticipate the sharing of these practices will take a plurality of forms including curriculum, narrative, and video interviews.

Research Outcome:

         First, this research will be used to gain greater understanding of confirmation practices within congregations and across denominations. It will also assess the motivations, expectations, and levels of satisfaction that youth, parents, and ministry leaders have about practices of confirmation. Second, this research will be used as a foundation upon which to build research-based literature, including books, curriculum, and online resources, and training events for those teaching about or leading confirmation. Third, this research will serve as the basis of a fresh discussion of confirmation and other practices supporting discipleship formation of youth. This discussion will be inaugurated by the steering committee through writings, presentations at conferences and guilds, and the project website.