7 Key Practices for Deepening the Baptismal Life in Small Congregations

7 KEY PRACTICES FOR DEEPENING THE BAPTISMAL LIFE IN SMALL CONGREGATIONS

2012-01-01 00.10.32

Baptism is the foundation of the Christian life. Our services of marriage, death and resurrection and healing all invoke the pattern of the “baptismal life.”

Since the lavish practices of the Early Church, however, our preparation for baptism has gotten shorter. Our baptisteries have gotten smaller. Our celebrations of this foundational sacrament have become fewer.

In fact, many small congregations have allowed their celebration of the baptismal life to lapse. Fewer members mean fewer baptisms, which means fewer baptismal remembrances.   But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can renew your practices. And by doing so, you can add marvelous tools to your ministry in weddings, funerals, hospital visits—and much more.


Here are seven simple ways to deepen your sacramental practices

1. Change the instruction to “Remember the gift/promise of your baptism!”

Seems silly, but there’s an awkward disconnect for lots of folks with the instruction “Remember your baptism!” It sounds like a command to recall events of a particular day. For those baptized as infants, the instruction seems almost pointless. For others, it’s just too limiting. Instead, you want people to remember the promise that baptism has given them in every moment. You want people to recall the fullness of this sacrament through every dimensions of life. As you practice this sacrament, invite the congregation to remember the marvelous, gracious gift of baptism offered for you!


2. Drag the baptismal font out of the shadows.

Dust off that baptismal font and set it in a place of prominence—where people have to walk around it. Every week! If your font is too heavy to move, set up a beautifully adorned stand with a bowl full of water. Move it around the worship space from month to month. Let people encounter it anew.


3. Interact with the font during worship.

Model for your congregation how to interact with this powerful symbol. Touch the water and mindfully remember the promise of your own baptism as you enter to lead worship. Play with the water during the call to worship. Teach the children about parts of the baptismal life during the children’s sermon. Let them touch and remember this promise, too. Add a simple remembrance of baptism to a prayer or response time. Place a font at each exit and include the baptismal remembrance as part of your benediction—send them out to serve the world with foreheads freshly wet with this promise.


4. Be lavish with the experience.

Don’t use an eyedropper for measuring out baptismal water. Keep the font full. The more water the better. Invite a member to decorate the font as you would decorate the altar. During Advent consider offering a dry baptismal and inviting the congregation to touch the bowl and long for the coming promise. Refill it with great joy at Christmas or Baptism of the Lord.


5. Keep a beautiful bowl in your pastoral care suitcase.

Each pastor’s car should have an old suitcase full of beautiful items that can be used to bring lavish worship to those in hospitals or the homebound. One essential item is a bowl that can be filled with water for the remembrance of the baptismal gift. Make the baptismal life an essential faith practice and promise wherever your parishioners find themselves. Periodically use this bowl for your congregation’s remembrance; ask members to pray for all those who will remember their promise with it in upcoming weeks.


6. Consider a once-a-year full water experience.

The Early Church celebrated baptisms at Easter. Each year, the life of the congregation centered on preparing for this Sunday and celebrating it. Consider moving all baptism requests to one Sunday in the Easter season. Offer a class for both those preparing for baptism and those remembering it. It’s more meaningful to do this work as a group. Then treat the celebration as a full contact sport. Is there a river or other body of water that would allow for submersion? Could worship be moved outdoors for this Sunday each year? How could this be offered as a climax of the Christian year?


7. Include this symbol in funerals and weddings . . . and meetings

Once you’ve helped deepen the experience of baptismal remembrance, include this symbol throughout the life of your congregation. Offer it at the beginning of an administrative meeting. Have the Sunday School teachers bless each other and the children with it. Set up a font for funerals and weddings. To a congregation that has practiced this promise, the baptismal font can speak hope beyond all words in any setting.