I’m so excited to have Amy Fenton Lee as a guest blogger today. You can find more about Amy on her blog The Inclusive Church. Amy is also a children’s ministry volunteer at her home church, First Baptist Church, Cumming, Georgia, and this fall you can catch Amy at the Kid’s Ministry Conference right here in Nashville. Trust me, you’ll love her!
Children’s Ministry begins at Conception: Birthing a Cradle Care Ministry
Spiritual awareness ofte n arises in a family’s life during a child’s gestation, well before the age of participation in Sunday morning small groups or VBS. Expectant couples usually begin thinking about their faith and the beliefs they will pass on to their new baby. At the same time, the pregnancy and new family addition may be the catalyst for increasing life complications. The transition from newlywed couple to family status can bring added marital strife and boundary struggles with the extended family. Many churches have the relational and learning environments to support and grow the expectant couple. The dilemma becomes attracting and keeping the couple engaged in the church through the demanding, sleepless first year of their child’s life.
Cradle care ministries can be an effective means of outreach and inreach to cement such an expectant couple inside a church. In 2000, Dawn Burgess assumed the role of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church’s (Birmingham, AL) preschool minister. She took a minimally effective “Cradle Club” program and re-birthed it as a serious ministry for the church. Over the coming years Cradle Care would grow to be an integral part of Dawson’s strategy for life-on-life relational impact and a key tool in marketing the church to unchurched families. Expectant parents are now invited or drawn to the church because of the way Dawson celebrates a newborn. However, the real goal of Cradle Care is to create the avenue to connect young couples (or even single mothers) to a longer term source for spiritual development. Gary Fenton, the senior pastor of Dawson, shares that the Cradle Care ministry has generated incredible growth in so many ways for Dawson: “We can easily trace a large number active church families to a Cradle Care beginning at Dawson. But what is most satisfying is watching those one time care recipients develop into servant leaders in our church, and more importantly, inside their own homes.”
Dawson’s ministry team shares that there are some essential ingredients to an effective Cradle Care Ministry:
Celebration: Cradle Care givers place a colorful cradle shaped yard sign in front of a family’s home upon the infant’s arrival. The eye-catching sign prominently displays the church’s logo and “Dawson Cradle Care” while also revealing the sex of the new baby to those passing by. The Dawson ministry team shares humorous stories of families going to incredible lengths in pursuit of the popular yard sign. The church also brings attention to pregnancies and new births on a large, attractively designed bulletin board displayed in a prominent area of the church campus.
Honor: The birth of a new child is worthy of commemoration. Many families come from backgrounds where a child’s baptism or dedication before the church is a sacred occasion or even sacrament. Indeed the birth is significant in the life of a family and a church. Even today’s generation appreciates the importance of ceremony when used in a meaningful way. Dawson’s pastor leads the church in a time of corporate prayer and dedication for each new infant and their family during a worship service. Only one family dedication is done in a single worship service. The church’s personal and heart-felt recognition time has become a church and community trademark.
Equipping: The Cradle Care ministry caregivers are hand-picked, established, and outreach oriented women who are young mothers themselves. These already active and involved church members are committed to regular prayer for their care recipients and prepared to assist in times of crisis. Caregivers are coached to handle and support families through high risk pregnancies, still births, and a myriad of other problems which can arise during this time of change. Caregivers also understand that their primary role is to help the expectant and new mother acclimate to a longer term church ministry environment such as a Sunday morning fellowship group, midweek Bible study, or “Moms-n-More” circle.
Relationship Cultivation: Numerous opportunities for relationship development are created through ministry events, contacts, and sign or gift deliveries. Even the pastor’s wife meets and prays privately with the new family just prior to their participation in the Sunday worship dedication. Every “touchpoint” is important for both helping the family feel connected to the church and for the preschool staff or caregivers to discover any underlying ministry needs. A semi-annual church-sponsored dinner is the central event of the Cradle Care ministry. Expectant or new parents are hosted by their assigned caregivers. Their table “teams” take part in interactive trivia and ice-breaker games. Small prizes (such as a package of baby spoons) encourage conversation in what is a fun approach to educate participants on nursery policy or comical topics like daddy awareness.
Various married couples from the church who are one step ahead in their parenting and spiritual journey serve as speakers for the semi-annual dinner. These young but further along parents share truths they have learned in their parenting experience while weaving in the importance of raising children with a Christ-centered focus. The event is designed to be an intimate gathering where parents can build friendships with other families who will have children in children’s ministry environments. Equally important is the goal of helping first time parents become comfortable with the nursery care their child will soon receive. The dinner concludes with a tour of the childcare facilities. During this time the preschool minister reassures the sometimes nervous parents of their child’s safety in the nursery. – Amy Fenton Lee
Amy Fenton Lee is a passionate children’s ministry volunteer at First Baptist Church, Cumming, GA. Amy will be teaching at Lifeway’s KidsMinistry 101 conference October 10th – 12th in Nashville. Amy also writes for her own blog, www.theinclusivechurch.com, to equip churches for successful special needs inclusion.