When a student comes to the end of Confirmation and decides not to make a profession of faith, not to become an Active Member of the church, I don’t get alarmed. There are three reasons for this.
First, if a Confirmation process is to have any integrity, then youth need to be able to say “no” and be respected for it. The process aims to prepare students to profess faith. If they don’t, it hasn’t been for naught. Integrating them into an adult experience of the faith community means we listen to them and permit them some agency, even if it’s agency to tell us no.
Second, Confirmation is an on ramp, not an exit. For every student. Just because someone is not able to claim the faith of the church for themselves does not mean they are not part of its life. I’ve known many adults in churches, regular attenders and contributors, who openly reject elements of the church’s theology. And one of the most engaged students I ever worked with was someone who declined to profess faith in Confirmation.
Finally, Confirmation is an invitation to profess faith, but not the last one. Mainline churches need to take a page from our evangelical sisters and brothers here, who routinely invite people to make faith commitments, over and over again. Youth need the opportunity to say “yes” to God held out for them repeatedly, whether they have said “yes” already or not. We do a disservice to youth and to the church if we allow a “no” or a “yes” at Confirmation to be the last word.