Ever wondered how to increase baptisms in your church? If you are a pastor, you certainly have.
We are called to bear fruit in our churches.
And the truest evidence of that fruit is when someone makes a public confession of being a disciple of Jesus through being baptized.
At PMC we’ve been working to become more organized in this manner by setting up some systems. Our Connect system is the first step through which people are invited to make decisions. Every week we have people making decisions to become followers of Jesus Christ, to study the Bible, and to be baptized.
In fact, this system has helped us get so many decisions we had to hire a part-time, and then a full-time Bible Work Coordinator. This is a position whose main responsibility is to train and coordinate volunteers to follow-up with those that have made baptismal decisions. It’s a big job.
In the last few months, though, I began to sense that we were not doing as well in this area as we could be doing. I sensed that we had a bottleneck in the system. I couldn’t quite put my finger on where it was, so I decided to meet with someone who has much more experience in evangelism than I do.
Russell Burrill is our head elder at PMC. Within our tribe, the Adventist Church, he’s a well-known name. He was the director of NADEI (North American Division Evangelism Institute) for about 25 years and has written quite a few books on the subjects of evangelism and discipleship.
Knowing I needed more perspective, I setup a meeting with him and our Bible Work Coordinator. After just a few minutes of explaining what we are doing, he quickly honed in on our weak spot.
In the world of evangelism and preparing someone for being baptized, the process is fairly straight forward: a decision is made, and then a volunteer schedules to meet with the baptisee for a series of Bible studies to prepare them for the baptism. In some denominations baptisms happen very quickly. In the Adventist church there are typically anywhere from 10-25 Bible study lessons that someone goes through before being baptized. Different topics are covered, including a lesson on baptism by immersion.
It’s usually at this point, when the lesson on baptism is covered, that a date is set for the person to be baptized. This was the point that Dr Burrill honed in on and is my first point.
1. Set a date for baptism the first time you meet with someone.
Let me spell that out a little more. If someone makes a decision for baptism over the weekend, a personal visit should be scheduled to meet with the person immediately, while the decision is still fresh on their hearts. This was not yet the new piece. I have typically taught that the purpose of this initial visit is to hear their story and for you to share yours, and also to see how you can best shepherd the person in their spiritual journey. The new and surprising part is that Dr Burrill asserted that part of the purpose of that meeting is to schedule a date for baptism.
As soon as he shared that part, it immediately made sense. Whenever you set a date with someone, the decision becomes concrete and real, and they are more likely to follow through with the decision.
Our context is rather unique, since we’re physically on the campus of Andrews University. When a student makes a decision, it might be in the middle of a semester. We’ve learned that if a student makes a decision and leaves for summer, they are much less likely to re-engage with their decision when they come back to school. What that means, then, is that if someone makes a decision for baptism in the middle of a semester, we need to do everything we can to make sure they’re baptized before the end of the semester.
So that’s the first lesson, then: immediately schedule a date for baptism. That was the main take-away of my meeting with Dr Burrill.
I believe we’re going to see a significant uptick in our follow through as a result of doing this.
2. Show an example of what a baptism is like
This is a lesson I’ve seen through personal experience. People are often skittish about being baptized. They’re not sure what’s supposed to happen, exactly. They’re afraid of doing something in front of the church. Some are afraid of water. There are all kinds of reasons.
If I ever sense that someone might be hesitant to be baptized, I schedule a time to do a baptismal walk-through with them. Nate Gibbs, a pastoral friend of mind, actually recommends doing this the first time you meet with someone. On this walk-through appointment, I’ll actually take someone into the empty baptistry. I’ll explain to them what happens. I let them take in the view from inside the baptistry. Once people begin to visualize it and understand that it’s not a scary experience, they get excited.
That’s it for now: two simple strategies to increase baptisms in your church.
So what about you? Have you tried these? What would you add to the list? To leave a comment scroll below or click here.
P.S. If you found this helpful, feel free to pass it along.
[image by mcdarius]