At Saddleback Church, we’ve always given a lot of attention to baptism, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve had so many baptisms over the years. A little boy asked me one time, “When can I get advertised?” That’s the mindset I want our congregation to have about baptism: “When can I get advertised? When can I publicly proclaim that I’m a believer in Jesus Christ?”
The most basic way I spotlight baptism at Saddleback is by talking regularly in my sermons about the value, the purpose, and the benefits of baptism. The sermon doesn’t have to be specifically focused on baptism to make the connection either.
We have found that a sizeable number of people intend to be baptized, but they never do it. They say, “I’ll do it next month,” but then the next month they forget. So any time I promote baptism, I challenge people to commit on the spot to being baptized. There are a couple ways I do this.
First, during our services, we give everyone a card that includes a place where people can indicate a desire to be baptized. Asking people for a commitment keeps them from perpetually delaying the baptism decision.
Another way we keep people from putting off baptism is by holding what we call “Nike baptisms,” which means we just do it. Our baptistery is a small, in-ground pool on the patio outside our worship center. Sometimes at the end of a service, I’ll say, “You’ve never been baptized? Just walk outside. The water is warm. You can be baptized today.” We provide T-shirts, shorts, and towels for the people. Trained counselors ensure that they truly are followers of Jesus before they’re baptized. Having these Nike baptisms gives many people just the push they need to publicly declare their faith.
For people who need more time to think through their baptism decision, we offer a few tools to help them. One of the most interesting tools is a video of baptisms. We show this in all of our class 101 sessions – our membership class – and during some services. Many people are afraid of baptism. They don’t understand what happens during baptism, or they’re scared of water. On these videos, we slow the picture down so the people watching can see the emotion on the face of the person being baptized. Often baptisms are so quick that we miss that emotion. But when you slow the video, you can see the smile slowly break out on a person’s face as she comes out of the water; it helps you see the beauty and magnitude of baptism, a picture of dying with Christ and being raised with Christ.
We also have a brochure about why someone should be baptized. A lot of times, people don’t want to ask anyone their questions about baptism, but they’ll pick up a brochure to find answers and to see the scriptural backing for baptism. We also have poster boards, banners, and signs with the faces of people who have been baptized. We often will include a short quote with each photo. That brings color and heart to an act that some people consider to be very churchy.
Finally, once a follower of Jesus does decide to be baptized, we make sure that baptism is a very positive experience. I had the privilege of being baptized by my own father, who was a pastor, and it was a very meaningful time for me. I want everyone baptized at Saddleback to have their own wonderful, unforgettable experience.
We encourage people to send out invitations to their baptism. “Don’t come alone,” we tell people. “This is a time to bring people – just like to a birthday party!”
As we begin the baptism time, we remind the people watching that all the angels in Heaven celebrate when one person comes to Christ. So when each person comes out of the water, each of us can be angelic for just a few minutes as we celebrate.
The bottom line is that baptism is attractive because it represents changed lives – lives where the old has died and the new has come. In my opinion, there is no symbol in Christianity that is more powerful than baptism. So explain it, promote it, and celebrate it in your church.