For almost 15 years, I’ve been reinventing Baby Dedeicaiton, constantly adjusting and perfecting. You can read about my 22-year history with Baby Dedication where I outline all the incremental changes over the years. For simplicity, let me just say this. By the end of 2020, I had Baby Dedication operating as a well-oiled machine. It was as good as I had ever seen or hosted in my 20+ years of vocational ministry. It was at this time that I made a ministry career change. I spent almost 5 years in Gilbert, AZ as the NextGen Pastor at MISSION Community Church, and in December 2020, I became the Kids Pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. Over the next 18 months, I would completely reinvent Baby Dedication at Mariners Church without too much trouble. Philosophically, it was a major shift in execution, which makes for a really great case study. To be 100% honest, it took less than a year to fully re-boot Baby Dedication into an excellent experience, but I’d say that my last dedication (almost 18 months after arriving) was maybe the best I’ve ever experienced. So, let’s get into it.
Let’s talk about what I inherited. For at least two decades (probably longer), Mariners Church has done Baby Dedications the same way.
- The Dedication took place in the worship center 3-4 times a year.
- The kids’ ministry team started communicating about Baby Dedication and opened an RSVP link several weeks before the event.
- Shepherding Elders were recruited to pray over families during a 5-7 minutes Dedication moment at the beginning of each worship service.
- The Family Pastor/Kids Pastor would speak for 2-3 minutes on the stage, parents with their children would stand on the stage, and a shepherding elder would stand with each family.
- The Kids Pastor would lead the congregation in a prayer of commitment to support and encourage these parents.
- The Shepherding Elders would take 2-3 minutes to pray over their assigned families while the church prayed from their seats.
- Usually, there would be some kind of pitch about the kids’ ministry and even a highlight about serving in the kids’ ministry.
- This would happen at every weekend service (only 3 services at this time)
The kids’ ministry had made a big shift just before I arrived. At the last Baby Dedication before I arrived, an intentional reception was created for parents immediately following the on-stage dedication. This was only done one or two times:
- Refreshments were served for families.
- Each family would come to the stage and read (or have read) the child’s selected life verse and a few words about their hopes and aspirations for their child.
- Someone prayed over each family individually, making this moment a little more personal and public at the same time.
There was one important element that interrupted Baby Dedications at Mariners Church. The Corona Virus Pandemic. I’m not 100% sure if COVID actually helped me or hurt me (actually, I think it did more good than harm). However, I don’t believe it affected things enough that it would change results for your situation.
Mariners Chruch did its last Baby Dedication literally weeks before Corona Virus shut everything down for months.
When I arrived in December 2020, there was a backlog of parents waiting to dedicate their Children. In the first 2-3 months of being at Mariners, I did 2-3 outdoor Baby Dedications for families between services. Reinventing Baby Dedication was one of my top priorities for my first year at Mariners and I was waiting for the right opportunity to host the first one. Finally, a decision was made to host our first corporate Baby Dedication in February or March of 2021.
Because this was Southern California and the pandemic was still very real (public schools were still virtual), I did all Prep for Baby Dedication Classes online (offering two classes). The classes were well attended (20-30 families in all), but registration for the actual Dedication was not very strong. In the end, about 10 families signed up for the actual dedication. I let the worship/production team know that we would keep this dedication separate from the corporate experience and try again in June. The low response was actually a blessing in disguise as I was able to leverage my staff for this first dedication… giving them all a first-hand view before we did it on a larger scale.
For this first dedication, we had families arrive for a 2:30p dedication experience on Saturday afternoon. I had a photographer taking candid pictures of families and I had 4-5 on my staff serve as prayer leaders, dedicating all of the kids in two rounds. We actually started about 10 minutes late and finished praying over the last few families just before 3:30p – just in time for the 4p service.
I was initially disappointed by the low turnout, especially since I had been talking to the staff and leadership about this new way of hosting Baby Dedications. In retrospect, it was the perfect pace for what would happen at our next Dedication.
EUREKA, IT WORKED
Shortly afterward, we set a date for the next Baby Dedication. Our hope was to go big with the next one (except that we were entirely dependent on parents signing up to participate). Since we were gearing up for in-person Vacation Bible School, I had a feeling that parents would be open to the in-person Baby Dedication again.
We put more effort into promotion for our June date. We also had a very healthy list of leads. We had 50+ families who had been on the waiting list since the pandemic. We also had many families who participated in our last online dedication classes but didn’t actually dedicate their kids. Additionally, we were getting a lot of interest from our promotions. This time, we hosted two (maybe three) in-person classes as well as an online class. We had a class during our 4p Saturday service as well as during our 8:30a Sunday Service. The online class was hosted at 6:30p on a Monday night.
About a month before the dedication, I put together a list of people I would invite to be prayer leaders. I personally emailed just about every Pastor at Mariners. I personally emailed about a dozen Shepherding Elders and their spouses. This was all a brand-new concept, so did have a trick up my sleeve. I was able to get 10 Pastors and Elders to participate. We were in the process of launching several new congregations and I had already hired a few of the part-time kids’ coordinators. Since they would eventually be hosting Baby Dedications at their congregations, I asked all of them to come to participate in this upcoming dedication. We had plenty of prayer leaders and everything was set.
As the big day drew near, everything was looking really good. The room where we were hosting the Baby Dedication was probably a tad too small for this event. It would definitely be the last time, which was exciting because it was a fairly large room. Here was the plan:
- 90-120 minutes before the dedication – arrive to set up the room
- 45 minutes before the dedication – final setup with the staff team
- 30 minutes before the dedication – meeting with prayer leaders
- 20 minutes before the dedication – open doors for families
- Begin Baby Dedication
- 12 minutes into the dedication – the photographer emails 3-5 photos to worship/production for the in-service dedication spot
- 20 minutes into the dedication – the first round of dedications happens with prayer leaders
- 35 minutes into the dedication – the first round of families depart to have photos taken, and the second round begins
- 40 minutes into the dedication – I and my Early Childhood Director head to the worship center to prepare for the in-service dedication spot
- 50 minutes into the dedication – the second round of families depart to have photos taken, and the staff heads to the kids’ building to prepare for services
Then, promptly at 4p, I host the welcome in the Worship Center and the Early Childhood Director hosts the welcome on the lawn (our outdoor venue). We would lead the same exact host spot at all five services:
- Quick welcome and introduction
- Explain what Baby Dedication is (pictures from the dedication on screen)
- I introduce the kids’ dedicated (a giant collage of all the babies on screen)
- I read through part of Deuteronomy 6
- I challenge the church to pray, encourage, and partner with these families
- I pray and thank them for loving the Next Generation and then invite them to stand and worship
We were able to provide a personalized and meaningful dedication experience for every family and still engage the entire church around the importance of the Next Generation without having a single parent stand on a stage. Win-Win.
Our first big dedication was a big win and word got about how great it was.
Our next Dedication was scheduled for October. Unfortunately, we had a venue challenge for this Dedication. We had reserved the Community Center, which was going to be PLENTY big for future dedications. However, there had been a communication error and the Community Center had been booked to a school months before we had made our request.
As we got closer to October, it looked like our Dedication was going to be even bigger that the one in June. This was exciting, but a problem because we hadn’t figured out where we were going to do it. Literally 10 days before the event, we decided that we would host the event on the lower lawn. During COVID, the lower lawn had become an active venue for services and medium-sized gatherings. The setting was beautiful, but I was nervous about the weather. Fortunately, it rarely rains in Southern California. October is also a very warm time of year. It had rained the morning of the event, but everything was dry just in time for the Dedication.
If I knew that the weather would be perfect, I’d do every Baby Dedication outside. It was absolutely beautiful. The weather was perfect and the setting was delightful. One of our challenges from the last Dedication was how noisy the room got with 10-12 families being dedicated at the same time. Being outside was perfect as the noise wasn’t an issue. The only downside is that the outdoor venue started its soundcheck right when I was speaking, making it a little distracting.
Maybe the biggest win of this Baby Dedication was who I invited to be Prayer Leaders. I had three people from the Executive Leadership Team pray with families as well as a few very influential staff. The event was wonderful, but the feedback during the week was massive. On Tuesday morning, Mariners has a 45-minute staff gathering called storytime. A very well-known pastor (on staff for nearly 30 years) shared a story about Baby Dedication with all of the staff. Afterward, several from the executive team spent several minutes talking about their experience at the start of our Executive Team Meeting. There was some very positive momentum building around our new Baby Dedication event.
HITTING OUR STRIDE
Our next Dedication was in February and we were officially booked in the Community Center. Getting the Community Center on the exact same weekend that worship/production wanted to do Baby Dedication would not always be easy, but the Community Center was going to be our long-term home for future dedications. It was spacious enough to host 500-600 people in a beautiful dedicated setting.
Leading up to this Baby Dedication, we designed a draft version of our Baby Dedication Timeline and Planning Tool. He had done this enough times now, we were able to automate a lot of the communication, ordering, and planning. To really make this easy, the Timeline and Planning tool would prompt everyone on the team when tasks were due. If tasks were connected to sending an email, the tool would actually link to the email so it took very little effort. The cool part about this tool was that all you had to do was put in the dates for classes and the event and it would auto-populate the timeline.
We spent this round building out the tool, mapping it to actions and emails hoping that everything would be in place for the next Baby Dedication.
This Baby Dedication actually felt like the best one I’d ever done. The venue was perfect and everything came together flawlessly. We even had a small crisis to solve. A family showed up who wasn’t registered for the event. It was a fluke miscommunication issue (I referenced the issue in my Awkward Moments post). Fortunately, my assistant is incredibly smart and highly capable. She was able to quickly put together a gift bag, a signed certificate, and a front-row table for the family. This dedication was such a proud moment for me and the whole team.
RINSE AND REPEAT
The next Baby Dedication was hosted in June, just a few weeks before Vacation Bible School.
To be honest, I barely remember anything about this deduction.
It was flawless like the one before. We spaced out the tables some giving families a little more room.
We dedicated 30+ kids and it felt like a reflex.
Families loved it. The volunteers loved it. It was simply awesome.
Oh, and for this dedication, we utilized the Timeline and Planning Tool – genius. We also started building a volunteer team so that the staff didn’t have to spend as much time doing everything.
That’s how we did it. Less than a year after arriving at Mariners, we hosted the October “outdoor” Baby Dedication that was nearly amazing. The February dedication was technically 14 months after I arrived, and it was the best Dedication I’d ever experienced in 20+ years of vocational ministry.
If you want to re-invent your Baby Dedication experience, it probably has less to do with time and more to do with repetitions. The BEST dedication was the 4th one we hosted, although numbers two and three were really good. You could easily apply these tactics and revolutionize your Baby Dedication experience in less than a single year.
You can do it! What are you waiting for?