Part of the fellowshipping process is welcoming visitors and investigators from the very beginning of their experience with the Church. Then, when an investigator has a baptism date set, it should be like a green light for Ward-Missionaries to know that they need to really get moving to help that investigator prepare for activity in the Church!
We all know the symbolism of baptism and what it represents - the death/burial/resurrection of Christ, a new beginning, an outward sign that we are making a covenant, and more. Its also important to recognize that baptism also represents the transition from investigator to new member. And that is a transition that is best made with help from the Ward- Missionaries and other Ward members.
In our experience as Ward-Missionaries, we have seen a number of people fall away from the Church immediately after being baptized. If a person chooses not to participate in the Church or keep their baptismal covenants, that is a very sad thing. Since there is so much emphasis on the need for new-member fellowshipping, its easy to feel like we could have done something more to prevent it.
In some cases, there may have been more that we could have done to help the new convert become an active member. However, the truth is that sometimes the new member might not be willing to continue with their commitments, regardless of our efforts. In every case, we need to make sure that fellowshipping by Ward-Missionaries, Ward leaders, and other Ward members is taking place and that every thing possible is being done to help the new member make a successful transition. While the choice to remain active in the Church is ultimately their responsibility, we are responsible to do everything within our capacity to help them.
We have worked hard to try to make a smoother transition for our new-members by involving the Ward members (especially Ward-Missionaries), beginning with the pre-baptism stage. Of course, I am a strong advocate that we should increase our contact with new members immediately after baptism, and there are several posts on this site that discuss post-baptism fellowshipping and retention.
Here are some of the ideas we've come up with for pre-baptism fellowshipping....
SPECIFIC THINGS THAT WE CAN DO TO HELP A BAPTISM-CANDIDATE:
- We try to become familiar with each investigator as much as possible, especially when they have a firm baptism date set
- We really want to attend at least one pre-baptism teaching appointment with the full-time missionaries so we can explain that we will begin teaching them the new-member lessons after baptism, & set up an appointment for our first lesson if possible. In our experience, some full-time missionaries are more agreeable about this than others, so if we can’t visit them with the full-time missionaries we arrange our own pre-baptism visit
- We encourage the full-time missionaries to include as many ward members in the baptism program as possible (this helps get more members to the baptism and makes a connection between the member and their ward family)
- We can make sure that baptism candidate knows what to bring to the baptism (we have a handout that we give them). The full-time missionaries sometimes forget to tell people to wear white underwear, bring a towel, etc. We’ve had a lot of people forget to bring something, even if they’ve been told, so I try to have a spare towel, hairbrush, etc in the car just in case.
- We can help put the word out about upcoming baptisms and encourage as many ward members to attend as possible (by phone, email, or announcements at church).
- We give each baptism candidate a “Welcome to the Ward” packet (preferably several days before the baptism) and encourage them to invite their friends/family to attend*
- We attend convert baptisms
- We take photos of the convert in the lobby before the baptism (with the missionaries and without) and give them framed copies of their photo as a keepsake. We also make sure they have received a copy of their baptism program.
These simple steps have made a big difference in our ability to get to know our investigators (especially those who are preparing for baptism). Any contact we have with them lets them know that we care and that we are available to help them. Without a doubt, the more comfortable a new member feels with the Ward members, the easier the transition into Ward membership will be for them and the more likely they will be to stay active.
*If you'd like more information on "Welcome to the Ward Packets", please see the "Welcome Packets" section on the right side of this page.