In May of this year, the church celebrated 12 Confirmations — a dramatic increase.
The Wilton confirmation class has many familiar qualities. The confirmands meets twice per month from September to May, usually on Sunday mornings. They learn about theology and the history and practices of their church, using text resources as well as discussion with church leaders. They engage in mission work and take a few trips together.
So how does a church increase its confirmation class three fold in two years?
"Relationships," says Gajdel, the Director of Christian Formation at Wilton.
Gajdel says the church is fully engaged in its youth ministries and this engagement, and the relationships being developed, are the reason for the growth.
"The whole community is getting involved in this. The entire church is behind growing children and youth ministry," says Gajdel.
Some of the relationships are developed by people who come to the confirmation class. A deacon and a member of the board of youth ministry attend every class. Gajdel invites members of specific ministries teams to come and talk about the impact the church has on the community and the lives of the church members. This is the central theme of the program: being in relationship with God, one another, and the world outside of the church.
"We have worked really hard over the last couple of years to make sure that our kids know that everything we do is about loving each other and loving God," says Gajdel. " When we think about our religion, it's about being in relationship with one another. You can’t talk about God without talking about relationship."
Gajdel says the theology is always related to what is happening in the lives of the teens and those in the community. In one early class, a visitor discussed how his faith helped him manage alcoholism. Gajdel says it was the first time she could see the kids making a straight-line connection between a conversation in class and why it matters in the world.
"When we put church in the ecosystem of everything else that we do, it makes sense," says Gajdel.
The increase in confirmands is not coming from new families joining the church. The difference is in the number of kids who are staying in the youth ministry and the those who have returned. Part of that success comes from Gajdel's relational approach to working with kids. She knows them, connects with them. She knows that getting certain teens excited about an event will influence other teens in those social groups. It's the same with adults. She makes sure everyone, even those without children, knows what the youth ministry is doing and is excited about it.
"I'm talking with people," she says. "I'm at lunch with someone different every day."
There are of course the routine communication avenues: emails, e-news, announcements (okay, Wilton has scrolling announcements on large screens in both the sanctuary and fellowship hall – maybe not "routine"). Gajdel also recognizes that there is room for improvement. The youth ministries program could improve the use of social media, even though the church does have its own social media presence.
Still, the proof is in the numbers. Not many churches have witnessed an increase in youth engagement as dramatic as Wilton.
It's worth talking about.
Drew Page is the Media and Data Manager for the Southern New England Conference, and a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer as a Dean at Silver...