Let’s Help a Colleague: Project Based Learning for Confirmation Prep

3961368521_d19618327f I received the following email from Tom, telling me about his idea of doing a “project-based” approach to Confirmation preparation. Here’s how he describes it:



Hi Joe,

It was great to meet you in Winnipeg last month; your visit got me thinking about our parish’s catechetical confirmation prep. The candidates are in Gr. 9 (or as you folks say, ninth grade). I’m looking at implementing project based learning at the core of the process. Working in groups, the candidates would do things like preach at closing prayer, coordinate closing prayer, lead a catechesis session for the other candidates, plan a social event for the youth of the parish, fund-raise for a charity, or come up with a project of their own. In each case, they would have to seek out “experts” from our parish to answer their questions as they teach themselves how to do these Christian practices. Maybe this is a lot to ask of 14-year olds, but I’m less concerned with the finished product than I am with the process of figuring out how to do church together. Their projects could all fail, but they could end up learning more from their failures than sitting through lessons about systematic theology and church history. My question for you is, who would have experience with this kind of approach? What models or resources are out there for this kind of independent learning?



Here is my response:

Hi Tom and thanks for your email. I had a wonderful time in Winnipeg and enjoyed meeting so many good folks.

I love your idea for a project based approach to confirmation. I personally don’t know anyone who is doing this right now. I wonder if I might put it out on my blog to see if someone can respond to your needs and give you some insights on their experience? Let me know.

It also occurs to me that you might want to explore what the Mormons do since I understand that they are very mission-based. In fact, I would recommend that you use that word – mission – as approached to project. We don’t do projects…we engage in mission. Also, you might want to think of arranging it in such a way that the research part of it takes place before Confirmation and the project takes place after so that it does not appear to be the completion of a requirement to receive the sacrament but an apprenticeship into our way of life. Just a thought.

Again, let me know if you want me to share your email with the readers of my blog.

Peace and blessings,  joe

Tom indeed indicated that he would like me to share his email and he invites your responses. Let’s help out a colleague! Share your comments in the “Leave a Reply” space below.

[photo courtesy of  Helga Weber via Compfight]

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.


  1. You want to talk to this guy:


    He does project-based classes for college undergrads, but has worked with teens as extensively over the years. Not Catholic, but Catholic-friendly.

    (Tell him I sent you. I can personally vouch that if you say, “I need to work within the bounds of our Catholic sacramental prep, he’ll be AOK with it. I’m pretty sure if you see Mr. Ecumenical flying out of a phone booth to rescue an inter-faith dialog gone awry, lift the mask you’ll find this guy.)

    In about twenty minutes, he could give you a run-through of how to set up expectations, provide the necessary resources for the students, when and how to follow-up during the project, and how to handle student disaster.

  2. Tom & Joe,
    Did something similar to this in our Confirmation II program last season. Our candidates are also ninth graders. They enjoyed it tremendously and when they had to present to the other groups (we have table groups) the catechesis which could be in any form they chose-act it out, artwork, instruction, game, etc. they could not help but try to compete. Our usual preparation for the sacrament is participating in 2 major parish events. The ideas for organizing events and creating a “special” feeling for that event brought them much joy and APPRECIATION from the parish family.
    As 14 yr olds-THEY WILL ENJOY IT! It just may take a few tries!

    • I also have projects, but I like the word Mission!- with my kids. They are eighth graders. With the help of the Parish Youth Group to lead them in the works outlined for the year. They also get a sense of belonging to a group dedicated in ministry in so many areas of Church! One thing I am going to add this year is to have the reflection of the mission immediately after finishing! I think they need to be able to come together and share what it was like and also thank our Lord for the opportunity to serve.

  3. Dear Tom,
    You are right on target regarding the necessity of helping teens to connect the knowledge with mission. This is what our Confirmation process can be! Service speaks to teens and they are so aware of justice, have hearts to serve and want to know how to really “see” Jesus.

    Here are a few ideas and, yes, I have tried some or implemented some of these aspects at various times in Confirmation preparation:
    1. First sit down with your pastor and/or DRE and explain your desire for Confirmation preparation. After all, this is your vision and it needs to be spoken, fleshed out, and planned.
    2. When you have his permission, though he may not really understand what you want to do, go to the various ministries in the parish and begin to “partner” with the members. Either assign a teen to an adult or ask if an adult would oversee a group of teens. By partnering as lectors, ushers, in the music ministry, outreach, at parish events, they will see the big picture of parish.
    3. Prepare a sign up list with times, dates, etc. for teens to commit to. Have an idea of a minimum of hours/days that they are to do.
    4. Be sure to have Scripture verses that speak of our corporal and spiritual works of mercy for the teens to reflect on so they know this is not just a vision of yours but is rooted in our call to discipleship.
    5. Journalling needs to be part of the experience as well as small group sharing. Plan a schedule of meeting times for them after a mission/service project so they can share where they saw Jesus, what they noticed, what was challenging, what really “spoke” to them.
    6. Periodically have them voluntarily share their journal entries so they can put words to the experiences and witness to others.
    7. Invite those who assisted you, the members of the various ministries, to share once a month why they chose or were called to a parish ministry. Try to seek out young adults who are also involved in parish life.

    Those are some basic elements. This partnering can help us have assurance that ministries will continue and not die out because the members are the “gray hairs” of our parish. Just going through the steps of lector or usher or being on a committee helps a teen see the commitment and treasure of participating in a mission.

    Hope this was helpful.

  4. Tom and Joe,
    Thank you for sharing this great idea and conversation.
    At the parish where I was the catechetical leader for many years, we invited the candidates for Confirmation to participate in stewardship experiences in three ways: stewardship at home, in the community, and in the parish. The candidates, and often their parents and family, determined the ways they would be stewards of their talents, time and service and completed a guided reflection sheet for each stewardship experience. The reflections were signed by Confirmand and parents and were given to their preparation small group leader. The candidates also shared their experiences within their small groups.
    Tom, your idea of mission experiences or projects reminded me of our stewardship experiences, I thought it worth sharing. I found the candidates and their parents understood that the preparation was a time to establish a way of life as a disciple and steward. As one parent said to me, “we know you are not asking the youth to do anything that we don’t hope everyone will do.”


  5. Cheryl Smith from the Syracuse Diocese just won the 2013 Parish Award from the NCCL for her The Power Of One program that she is responsible for designing & instituting. It integrates an on-line and in-person programing, service, parental and communal participation. I can send you contact information if you’d like. She is from the Church of the Annunciation in Clark Mills, NY. I think it would be a great resource for Tom.

  6. The way that we incorporate Mission into our Confirmation program is that I require the candidates to do 4 month long Apprenticeships in an already existing Parish Ministry. There are 12 ministries (including myself as Director of Confirmation and Youth Ministries) that provide an adult mentor to provide ministry-specific formation and opportunities to get their feet wet in the different ministries at the parish. At the end of four months, they have an evaluation/discernment day where they decide whether or not to continue in the already existing ministry or to move to a new ministry. This is the first time that we’re doing this model (I just started here at St. Andrew’s in August) and this semester is the pilot semester for this model, but I’m already noticing great things about the enthusiasm of the young people for ministry and mission, and it’s also giving these ministries some extra oomph because the adults are remembering why they entered into that ministry to begin with.

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