Making and building contacts
Whether you live in a large town, a suburb or a rural village, there may be places where families with young children gather. Whether this is a first child or a new addition to a growing family, the research shows that parents are anxious about the future, concerned about responsibility and want the best for their child. Here are some ideas to help families discover more about how the church is a place of welcome for them.
Finding out about christening might be one of the ways that brings a family into contact with the church, so making sure good publicity is available is important. A leaflet to help families find out what a christening might mean for them is available (both sides pictured below – it folds out into a cross shape), and may be left in places such as:
- Parent and baby groups
- Doctors’ surgeries
- Baby healthcare drop-in clinics
Including church contact details on the back of the leaflet helps parents get in touch, and helps you monitor where the leaflet works best. Ask enquirers to tell you how they heard about you.
First visit or phone call
Whatever the occasion, meeting people for the first time is always crucial, because first impressions last. Warmth, welcome and acceptance have a great impact on families, some of who may not be used to church and aren’t sure what to expect when they make an enquiry about having their child christened.
- If they make contact by phone and leave a message, returning the call as soon as possible will reassure them and make them feel cared for. Congratulate them, and if they use the word ‘christening’, take the chance to talk about ‘baptism’.
- Ask them how they heard about you and ask all about them and their child. Arrange to meet soon to get to know them a little better.
- Keep an eye out in services for new families with a child. Being noticed and spoken to by church people, including the vicar, makes newcomers feel welcome, so make sure that happens. If they mention a christening, show enthusiasm. Arrange to meet soon.
- The research clearly shows that if families form relationships with others in the church, they are much more likely to return again. Encourage friendly people in the congregation to introduce themselves to the parents and child, and get to know them a little. This will be the first step in helping parents to meet and appreciate the love and support of the church family.
- Encourage friendships to grow through personal invitations to church events, toddler groups, a walk in the park or just hanging out over a coffee.
It’s important that the family continue to feel welcome at this meeting. They’ll appreciate discussion on:
- Whether the service will be part of a Sunday service or a stand-alone service. Tell them about the advantages of having the service in one of the usual Sunday services, but without judgement if they opt for stand-alone.
- Godparents – ask if they have decided on how many and who, offering advice on the requirements if necessary. Acknowledge they must be very special people to have been chosen to be godparents.
- Personal touches to the service. If music is to be included, try to accommodate a choice of hymn from the family, or if that is not possible, a reading or prayer request. Involving families in the service will help them feel that it is their service, in their church. This sense of ownership is a good foundation on which to encourage the family to come back to their church after the service.
- Collect all the names and contact details of the parents, child and godparents as this will ensure they can be contacted again. Ask the family at this stage about permission to keep in touch. It’s likely they will give that permission.
- Ask the parents why they would like their child christened/baptised and listen attentively to what they say. There may be a moment which will lead to deeper discussion.
- Invite them to prepare in the usual way offered at your church and include the godparents in this, if possible.
A leaflet designed to support this initial conversation with the family, and remind them of some of the things you might discuss with them, is available, which parents can take away and keep. The design with both sides unfolded is pictured left.
Involving the usual congregation
The relationship between the usual congregation and a new family seeking baptism is not always an easy one. One way to help bridge that gap is to involve the congregation in praying for baptism families in the weeks leading up to the christening day.