A few years ago All Saints' was suffering from Baptism Fatigue. Every other service seemed to be a baptism with hundreds of guests (who didn't want to be there) crammed together with regular worshippers (who soon started becoming less regular). It was very hard to provide consistent worship, build a community, integrate newcomers - or provide the kind of welcome that baptism families deserved...
The DCC decided (going against the norm) that these baptisms were counter productive for the church's mission and that something would need to be done.
The proposed solution was to hold baptism services in the afternoon. This totally contradicted the standard advice that we are given but it proved to be a really productive idea. The plan was that each family would be welcomed at a Sunday morning service and then invited to an afternoon service with hymns, readings, an address and the support of ordinary church members.
We've been doing this for a while and it seems to have had some good results:
Families seem to get a better welcome than they did in the old system. We can greet them as a community in an ordinary high quality service where they can be given some attention and get to know us - and the kind of thing we do. Because they don't have hundreds of guests to worry about we can concentrate on the relationship between the church and the family - this is a win!
The afternoon services have become high quality events which usually get very positive feedback. We can speak to the larger groups of families and friends and attempt to meet their needs - hopefully giving them a positive impression of church - and the immediate families the "rite of passage" that they're looking for.
Morning services have been transformed and have helped us to build a more consistent and growing community. Sunday mornings at All Saints' are a much more positive experience without the constant conflict of interests between families, visitors, children and church members...
And Baptisms have become more meaningful. The Afternoon Baptisms are wonderful missional, spiritual and good-natured events - and morning baptisms (when they happen) are true All Saints' family events.
We had such a baptism this morning for Wilfred who's parents joined the church two years ago. They opted for a morning service and invited church members to the party afterwards. It was a great day and felt really significant. I suspect baptisms become more meaningful for church members when they don't see them every other week...
This has been a great journey and seems to have been the right thing to do. It does, however, have a cost - our baptism visitors have had to get quite efficient in their dealings with families - and we have an extra service to run on the occasional Sunday afternoon... Since everyone has benefited so much it would be great to keep this work going and provide the high quality welcome and events that families deserve but (and here's the plug) we could do with some more warm bodies in the baptism team... it's not a ministry that is always visible on a Sunday morning but it has been one of the most significant projects that ASL has taken on in recent years.