The Church of England carries out more than 10,000 baptisms per month each year for babies and infants. This figure is made up of approximately 7,000 baptisms per month for babies under one year old, and 3000 baptisms per month for children aged 1 - 12 years. Increasingly parents are choosing to have children baptized a little later, with 35% of baptisms for children aged between one and twelve. Through Baptism we have the opportunity to engage with the younger generation within the community, often an age group missing from our churches. Motivation for baptisms can vary from tradition, celebrating and acknowledging faith or for some a tentative journey towards deeper understanding.
There has been much thought and written about challenges facing the Church and Baptism. Some concerns are:
- Some families treat baptism as a one off event and are never seen again.
- There is concern about the understanding and engagement by participants, therefore potentially devaluing the sacrament of Baptism.
- Some perceive the baptism service itself wordy or heavily liturgical and not mission orientated.
- Some Christian parents are unsure how to nurture faith in their children, how then can we best support baptism families?
Thinking carefully about good preparation, the experience families have on the day and follow up can work towards breaking down some of these challenges.
What's in a name?
Baptism Matters research found that when families make the decision to have their child baptized, many clearly call the occasion a Christening. As churches we can introduce the word ‘baptism’ early on, explaining ‘during the christening your baby will be baptized.’ The research found a strong motivation for parents asking for baptism was founded with a desire to want the best start in life for their child and for them to make good choices. The research showed that parents were on their own journey of faith sometimes going back to their experiences of church in their childhood and youth.
The first step in the family’s journey of faith can be discovering that ‘baptism’ is what happens at a christening. Church of England resources introduce the word ‘baptism’ as the event at a christening, in a similar way that a ‘marriage’ happens at a ‘wedding’.
It is extremely important that the first contact families have with the Church is a positive and welcoming one. Often families ask for a Christening and may be caught up on certain dates or specifications. It is important we are patient, as this may be the first time a family have contacted a church and may be anxious or even expecting rejection. Whatever the church policy on baptism, the family should have things explained to them clearly and be treated as people who God loves and potential members of the church. Building a team of volunteers to support Baptism can mean families come in to contact with church members plus they often have more time to dedicate to making them feel welcome. Click here for useful publicity around baptism and tips for first contact with families on the phone and when they visit.
Giving families the option of a thanksgiving and helping them understand the differences between thanksgiving and baptism can support them to think about what is right for their child and family.
This short video clip can help to show parents the difference between the Baptism and a thanksgiving and decide which is best for them. It can also be used as part of Baptism preparation. Click here..
A service of thanksgiving for a child is also a time of family gathering and celebrating something very special. Parents may choose this service because:-
- After exploring what baptism means, they may feel that a thanksgiving is the right choice.
- They may simply want to involve the church in saying thank you to God for the arrival of a child into their family.
The Thanksgiving service can be an opportunity for speaking of God’s love and care for every child, it may be a precursor to baptism, in a relaxed and more informal style of service. Click here for a link to an example of a Thanksgiving service.
Families who attend a thanksgiving can often be thinking quite deeply about the faith journey, so it’s important not to lose touch with them. See below for ideas to continue to keep in touch with families.
Many families are now unfamiliar with church and church practice. Families are often worried about what will happen on the day of Baptism, and anxious to avoid embarrassment about what to do and where to stand.Preparation can make sure that their questions are answered.
It is important that in addition to this, there is time taken to facilitate their journey and open up possibilities to explore faith. Preparation will also give the family an opportunity to meet people from within the Church and talk through the baptism service and the words they are saying. Canon law still requires churches to prepare candidates for baptism, but does not specify how this is delivered. Preparation will vary between Churches.
The baptism preparation should aim to meet parents at their point of understanding and help them discover more of God’s love for them and what it could mean. A child’s baptism can often be a milestone on their own spiritual journey where their own questions, thoughts and feelings can be nurtured. Although families may feel prepared for the day and understand its significance, they may not know what is expected from them as they begin their child’s life long journey in faith, again keeping in touch with families can support this. It is also a good idea to include Godparents where possible as part of the preparation so they also can fully understand what is expected from them.
Resources for Godparents can be found on https://churchofenglandchristenings.org/godparents/role-godparent/
There are many resources available for preparing for Baptism, more recently some that focus on babies and children’s understanding and spirituality. Be aware of family life when setting a timetable of preparation, late evenings may not be easy to get to with a young family. A crèche may also be helpful for families to fully commit to this.
Here are a few examples of resources available:-
First Steps - DVD from CPAS
My Baptism book – suitable for a child aged 2-5
On the Day
Many baptisms take place within a Sunday morning service. This is an opportunity for the congregation to show the hospitality of Christ to strangers. The welcome that baptism families receive is important and the congregation should be encouraged to extend the welcome by praying for the family, smiling and chatting to them.
Other churches hold the baptism at a separate time, either late morning, or in the afternoon. A common reason for this is the increased number of guests who come to baptisms these days. In this case members of the congregation could be invited to these separate services, extending the welcome.
Members of the congregation could be invited to pray for a particular child before the day and introduce themselves on the day. This person could be key in building relationships and inviting the family back to church.
There are many creative ways of showing welcome during the service. Some ideas can be found here:
Click here for suggestions on how to make the family and guests feel more at ease:
Making families Welcome: https://churchsupporthub.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Making-families-welcome-in-template.pdf
Often families and guests attending the baptism are unfamiliar with Church, with liturgy, languageand routines. To make baptisms more accessible and understandable the Church of England have provided alternative texts in accessible language. Click here to read more.
Knowing the congregation or audience is important for communication throughout the service including preaching. At Baptisms hardly any congregations will consist of entirely Christians so it is important to include something of God’s love for them.
Picking a preacher that can engage with the congregation and speak at their level with a welcoming personality can be helpful. Key elements of baptism preparation could be revisited in the sermon or developing and exploring themes from the baptism service such as sin and grace. Keeping preaching short and engaging will make it most accessible for baptism families.
For a more detailed look at preaching at baptisms click here for details of the book ‘Preaching at Baptisms’ by Andie Brown.
Back to Church
The ‘Baptism Matters’ research2 found that families want and expect churches to keep in touch with them. Following up with families in the weeks and months after the service has a really positive impact on church growth!Here’s more about how to follow up well:
Keeping in touch
Ask about retaining a family’s details so the church can keep in touch. Most families will be happy with this. Some Churches have their own methods to help them organize information. For a small fee some buy into databases such as Church Suite (formerly Church App) or. Click here for more information
Encourage families along to toddler groups if they are happening, special services like nativities, Easter and Mother’s day or any family friendly events the Church may be having.
Here are some other key times during the year that could be developed as an invitation:
The Season of Invitation resources may help with some of these events
Research shows that intentional, personalised invites which are repeated work best. It may be a family cannot make certain dates so repeated invites have shown families are more likely to return.
Ensure that when families do return to church that they receive a warm welcome.
Celebrating the anniversary of the Baptism by sending a card or an invite to a service to acknowledge the anniversary of Baptisms.
Post baptism groups
Some churches hold specific groups several times a year to continue to meet with Baptism families and to continue to explore faith. Finding opportunities to link them in with all young families in Church would also be helpful as they grow in faith.
This is a response to research undertaken on behalf of the Archbishops’ Council looking at parent’s real experiences and expectations around the baptism of their child. In 2016, Godparents’ Sunday took place for the first time and will have a set date annually; however Godparents can be celebrated at any time. Click here for resources:
25 ideas for Godparents Sunday:
A sample service for Godparent’s Sunday:
Many Churches have a Baptism Policy that includes the information in this section. For examples of Baptism Policies click here
Download ready-to-print documents, including the latest information on baptism liturgy, canon law and recent trends, plus, find logos ready to use in your own materials and a series of good-practice tips.
The new Church of England website has a range of information for families. www.churchofenglandchristenings.org
The start of a journey of faith for the child baptised, which may also be a journey into deeper understanding for the child’s family.
As a family, identifying children’s God given gifts, interests and passions and creating opportunities to use them and live them out as their faith develops.
Sharing and celebrating a special occasion with family and friends of the baptism family while showing Christian hospitality and sharing the Gospel and God’s love with them.