Through the nearly 40 years I taught every year, I had mixed success. Some youth from solid church families seemed to dig into the catechism with questions and observations that were remarkably profound but the majority sat and listened as I had done before them. I do not discount the good of memorization or of listening to the text explained and I am sure many of them continue to be shaped by and with the catechesis that took place in those classes. What must be admitted, however, is that those who remain active in the Christian faith (particularly the Lutherans) were aided not simply by what I did in that class but by the example of their parents (and grandparents) and solid foundation of the faith in the home. I am hesitant to take much credit for anything in their catechesis or in their continued life within the Church.
If knowledge is the thing, the later age for catechesis seems more and more questionable. Would we not want to impart this knowledge as young as possible so that these same youth have a solid foundation on which to endure the turbulent teenage years -- especially in view of how much change and how fast change has come for all of us but particularly for youth? In Luther's day, youth catechesis was in the home and the examination took place before the pastor and youth were admitted to the Sacrament much earlier than is probably typical among us today. That said, when you are trying to impart understanding of often abstract concepts, a later age brings with it a certain measure of maturity in thought that aids that goal.
In the end, the biggest problem I see is not with the Catechism (although I do not believe we solve anything by making the book longer and longer). The biggest problem lies with what is going on in the youth and the home. Nearly everything that influences the life of our youth has a competing vision of what is good and right and salutary. Nearly everything that equips our youth to define themselves and their place in the world is born of a competing worldview in direct conflict with the Scripture and the faith. Nearly everything in their lives puts faith as one of many influences and values and not the primary influence or value. It seems to me that this is where catechesis for our youth has to begin. We can impart all the knowledge in the world to them but until they see themselves and the world around them through the lens of Scripture and faith defines their answers, we have merely compartmentalized Christianity as one of many influences upon them. This leaves them to choose which fits which part of their lives and which they use to meet the challenges, questions, and issues they face within those lives.
It seems to me that perhaps we may have to forego some of the knowledge in order to begin with something that helps them know and confess a Biblical, Christian, and Lutheran worldview or else we will continue to lose so many of those who might have been raised in the Church but were never really defined by their faith. In this endeavor, the creed takes on an even more strategic role as the confession of this worldview and not simply of their individual faith. And those are some of my thoughts as I get back into the role of exclusive teacher of the catechism to our youth once again. . .