It’s no secret that well-done children’s programming grows a church, but spiritual awareness often arises in a family during a child’s gestation, well before the age of participation in VBS, music camps, or a Christmas pageant. Expectant couples routinely begin thinking about their faith and deeper matters affecting the views they will instill in their offspring. Inevitably, at least one spouse feels a pull to have some tie to “religion”. At the same time, pregnancy and a new family addition may be the catalyst for increasing life complications. The transition from newlywed to family status may cause marital strife, financial pressures, and boundary struggles with the extended family. Many churches have the relational and learning environments to support and mature the expectant couple. The dilemma becomes to attract and keep the couple engaged in the church through the demanding, sleepless first year of their children’s lives.
Several churches are reinventing the idea of Cradle Care to draw in and cement these expectant couples. As Dawn Burgess assumed the role of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church’s preschool minister, she took a minimally effective “Cradle Club” program and re-birthed it into a serious outreach ministry for the church. Cradle Care grew to be an integral part of Dawson’s strategy for life-on-life relational impact and a key tool in marketing the church to un-churched families. Expectant parents are now invited or drawn to the church and the ministry because of the way Dawson celebrates a newborn. The real goal of Cradle Care is to create an avenue to connect young couples and single mothers to a long-term source for spiritual development. Gary Fenton, the senior pastor of Dawson, shares that the Cradle Care ministry has generated incredible growth in many ways at the church. “We can easily trace a large number of involved church families to a Cradle Care beginning at Dawson. But what is most satisfying is watching the one-time care recipients develop into servant leaders in our family of faith 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 cradle-shaped yard sign in front of a family’s home upon the infant’s arrival. The eye-catching sign prominently displays “Dawson Cradle Care” and reveals the sex of the new baby to neighbors and others passing by. The Dawson ministry team laughs as they share stories of families going to incredible lengths in pursuit of the popular Dawson Cradle Care 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. Expectant families’ names, due months and ensuing birth dates are featured on the board which has become a favorite gathering spot for church members of all ages.
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. Regardless of the nuances of various protestant theologies for infant baptism and christening, the birth is significant in the life of a family and a church. Even today’s generation appreciates the importance of ceremony when used sparingly and for the right events. 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. In the past twelve months, Dawson has led more than seventy individual baby dedications. 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. These involved church members are committed to regular prayer for their Cradle Care recipients and prepared to assist in times of crises. 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 young mother find and acclimate to a longer term church ministry environment such as a Bible study small group, Sunday morning stage of life class, or “Moms-n-More”. Caregivers commit to attend monthly meetings and contribute to the planning and preparation of all ministry activities.
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 worship dedication. Burgess explains that 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. Expectant or new parents are hosted by their caregivers. Their table “teams” take part in interactive trivia and ice-breaker games. Small but helpful prizes, such as a package of baby spoons, encourage conversation in a fun approach to educate participants on nursery policy or topics like daddy awareness. Married couples from the church who are one step ahead in their parenting and spiritual journey are the featured speakers. 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 the other families who will have children in the same age. 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 is an active volunteer in the Moms-n-More and preschool ministries of Perimeter Church in Duluth, GA. Amy’s father is the senior pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. She enjoys writing to equip ministers and lay leaders for ministry minded relationships. Amy receives email at [email protected]