This answer attempts to give an overview of the processes for gaining a Christian education in the Church. Depending on the denomination, this may be called catechism, confirmation, or discipleship. Throughout Christian groups, all encourage new converts to begin familiarizing themselves with the Bible by reading it and listening to it.
In this answer, we will focus on three similar but distinct processes for the education of the convert. They are Catholic catechism, Protestant confirmation (using the Lutheran denomination as our prime example), and discipleship in the modern Evangelical denominations. In all three of these processes, it is ordinary for the convert to be baptised, then educated thouroughly in the faith, then for the baptism to be confirmed by a declaration of faith or ceremony of inclusion into the membership of the church. During this time of learning, the newly baptized or soon-to-be baptized reads from, listens to, and learns about the Bible and other teachings and practices of the group. Both the Catholic and Lutheran doctrines teach that it is during the ceremony of the confirmation that the convert receives the Holy Spirit, though doctrines on the Holy Spirit differ greatly in the Evangelical churches, especially between the Pentecostal churches and the remainder of the Evangelical churches and denominations.
1. Catholic Catechumenate
The body of teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church is called the Cathechism of the Catholic Church. An advantage held by converts to Catholicism is that such teachings and doctrines are standard throughout the churches, and so one ideally learns the same things at one church as they would at any other. A student of the Catechism is called a catechumen, and the process of instruction is called the catechumenate or the RCIA (right of christian initiation of adults). An official catechumenate was performed for some time in the early Church as written on by the church fathers and elucidated in the Catholic Encyclopedia, but the process was discontinued after some time. However, the process was resumed officially by the Catholic Church in the 1960's. The Second Vatican Council states:
The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and to be taken into use at the discretion of the local ordinary. By this means the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of suitable instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.
The basis of this new catechumenate is meant to be that catechumenate performed traditionally by the early Church. BeginningCatholic.com lists the stages of the RCIA as follows:
Inquiry: the initial period before you decide to enter the Catholic Church. You're asking questions and checking it out, but aren't yet ready to commit.
Catechumenate: those who decide to enter the Church and are being trained for a life in Christ are called catechumens, an ancient name from the early Church. In this stage, you're developing your faith and are being "catechized" — learning catechism, or the basic points about Catholic faith and life.
Purification and preparation: The Church will help you focus and intensify your faith as you prepare you to commit your life to Christ and be received into the Church at Easter. If you're following the RCIA process, you'll go through a beautiful series of Gospel-based meditations during Lent, which is the time frame of this period.
Initiation: itself, the culmination of the whole process! You're received into the Church during the Easter Vigil Mass, where you'll receive the sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. (If you've already been baptized, you won't be baptized again.)
Mystagogy: after reception into the Church at Easter, this period lets you reflect and learn more about the mysteries of the Mass and the Sacraments that you now participate in fully.
A detailed description of each stage can be found at that website.
2. Lutheran Confirmation
Lutherans, in the same vein as Catholics, see a process of education of the convert as a continuation of the traditions of the early Church. An Explanation of Luther's Small Chatechism states:
Confirmation is a public rite of the Church preceded by a period of instruction designed to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community. Note: Prior to admission to the Eucharist, it is necessary to be instructed in the Christian faith (1 Cor. 11:28). The rite of confirmation provides an opportunity for the individual Christian, relying on God's promise given in Holy Baptism, to make a personal public confession of the faith and a lifelong pledge of fidelity to Christ.
The main points of Lutheran Confirmation are:
- Ten Commandments
- Apostle's Creed
- Lord's Prayer
The first three are learned and memorized by the recipient of the rite, who is expected to reflect upon and understand them in the context of Christian faith and practice. The recipient learns Lutheran doctrines on all six of these points in a small classroom-like setting that takes place like a Sunday-school class or week-night bible study class. Unlike Catholicism, in which a bishop must carry out the rite of confirmation, in the Lutheran denomination an ordinary priest may carry out both the education and the ceremony of confirmation.
3. Evangelical Discipleship
Unlike the Lutheran and Catholic churches, there is not a single process of Christian education for recent converts in the Evangelical denominations. Also in contrast, converts are usually considered to be Christians in the fullest sense at the moment of their conversion, which is determined by a prayer of confession, repentance, and acceptance of the lordship of Christ or a declaration of faith in the death and resurrection of Christ along with a commitment to follow his teachings. Many evangelical churches lack formal processes like those discussed above, and determine membership by statements of faith and democratic decisions by the current body of members or by the leadership or staff.
There are two main modes for education in the Evangelical church, which are both usually referred to as discipleship. They are one-on-one discipleship and small-group discipleship. In one-on-one discipleship, a mature Christian who is active in the ministry of the church meets with the new convert. They meet one-on-one in a home, church, or other location that facilitates private discussion to read and memorize scripture, pray together, and to discuss Christian faith and living. These meetings are often informal. In a small-group setting, a group of four to twelve converts meets with a mature Christian to discuss and memorize passages from the bible, pray, and discuss Christian faith and living. These small group meetings are very common throughout the Evangelical denominations and their curricula vary widely, but usually introduce major points of Christian faith such as the person of Christ, the structure and content of the Bible, the gifts and operations of the Spirit, and life and ministry in the Christian Church. Many leaders of small groups use Bible study guides published by Christian publishers or by their own denomination or church. Baker's Evangelical Dictionary gives the following discussion of discipleship in the Church at its goals:
The Goals of Discipleship.
Toward Self: Become Like Christ. A primary goal of discipleship is becoming like Jesus ( Luke 6:40 ). This is also understood by Paul to be the final goal of eternal election ( Rom 8:29 ). The process of becoming like Jesus brings the disciple into intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and, as such, is the goal of individual discipleship.
Toward Others: Servanthood. But discipleship is not simply self-centered. In a classic interaction with two of his disciples who were seeking positions of prominence, Jesus declares that servanthood is to be the goal of disciples in relationship to one another ( Mark 10:35-45). The reason that this kind of servanthood is possible is because of Jesus' work of servanthood in ransoming disciples. He paid the price of release from the penalty for sin and from the power of sin over pride and self-centered motivation. The motivation of self-serving greatness is broken through redemption, and disciples are thus enabled to focus upon others in servanthood. This is very similar to Paul's emphasis when he points to Jesus' emptying himself to become a servant: Jesus provides the example of the way the Philippian believers are to act toward one another (Phil 2:1-8). Mark and Paul declare that even as Jesus was the redemptive servant, authentic discipleship entails selfless servanthood. This is the goal of disciples in relation to one another.
Toward the World: The Great Commission. Through his Great Commission Jesus focuses his followers on the ongoing importance of discipleship through the ages, and declares the responsibility of disciples toward the world: they are to make disciples of all the nations ( Matt 28:16-20 ). To "make disciples" is to proclaim the gospel message among those who have not yet received forgiveness of sins. The command finds verbal fulfillment in the activities of the early church, as they went from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth proclaiming the message of Jesus and making disciples. In the early church, to believe in the gospel message was to become a disciple (cf. Acts 4:32, 6:2). To "make disciples of all the nations" is to make more of what Jesus made of them.
So, just like Christian faith and practice, the process of Christian education varies in both formality, the material taught, and its goals. However, nearly all churches require or encourage new converts to Christianity to go through a process like these before gaining membership in the church or participating in church ministries.