By Steinunn Arnþrúður Björnsdóttir
Statistics show that percentage of newborns in the total number of baptisms is declining in all the Nordic countries. In a response to this decline, the Nordic national churches have all increased their efforts to communicate the meaning and importance of baptism to various groups using a variety of methods.
First, there is communication aimed at pastors and congregations to encourage them in their respective communications to parishioners as well as equipping them for the task. This is done using brochures, magazines and websites. The materials include outreach ideas, liturgical suggestions, discussions on baptism with parents etc. In Norway extensive online resources for baptismal work includes short videos for distribution on social media.
Campaigns to raise awareness among the general public have also been conducted by the central church authorities, individual dioceses, and parishes, using booklets, brochures, websites, and other means. Creative ideas include videos shown in cinemas throughout Norway. Similarly, the diocese of Oslo advertised in public transportation, and Helsinki Parish Union conducted a campaign where families of newborns were approached and followed-up on for years.
In Sweden, half of all dioceses have coordinated campaigns, including a special baptismal project by the diocese of Lund spanning a decade, focusing on all aspects of baptism such as theological reflection, communication strategies, statistics, education etc. In Finland a project titled "Baptism and Sponsorship" included questionnaires to parents who had baptized their children or had not baptized, to better understand the reasons for their decisions.
In spite of various projects and campaigns, the decline in number of baptized children and newborns continue. While there are no statistics or information easily available which describes the relative success of different projects, continuing decline does not necessarily mean that campaigns have not worked. First, the numbers for the countries listed here do not show the overall picture (i.e., not divided into areas) and secondly, we do not know how the situation would look if nothing had been done. In this context, it should be noted that no comparative campaigns have been conducted in Iceland and that Iceland as a country has seen the steepest decline within the last two decades. However, other contributing factors might also be at work concerning this specific country-case.
The communication efforts about baptism by the Nordic churches in the last two decades has resulted in a rich source of materials and knowledge, which is now easily available to other churches and could be used to further baptismal communication in churches on baptism to their constituency and the population as a whole.