By John Paul Basham
Parent involvement is a topic of constant conversation in student ministry circles and one of the most common complaints I hear from student pastors is that they are having a hard time getting youth parents to engage in their ministry.
At Lifeway, we keep several values at the forefront of our minds, and one of those values is that we make it easy for the church to get what they need to make disciples. Since learning the advantage of filtering my work through this value, I have often applied it to parent ministry conversations.
Parents of teenagers have busy lives and many of them feel like they’re doing well just to remember where their kids are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be wearing from day to day.
Although most parents would say that they desire to be better parents in one way or another, they would also say that they want someone to show them how and when they could fit student ministry engagement into their already crammed schedule! Here are six tips for successfully connecting parents to your ministry by making it easy for them.
1. Pray for them.
We often forget to pray for the Lord to guide and empower our ministry, but this connection that we have with our King is the most powerful tool at our disposal.
Prayer will do several things for you. If you’re a frustrated church leader struggling to get parents engaged with your ministry—let’s be honest—you’re likely in need of some softening of your heart towards those parents.
As you pray over these parents, the Lord will renew a compassion for families in you and this is the posture you should be starting from. While you’re praying, go ahead and ask God to open some specific doors with families with whom you can begin building deep relationships.
2. Make yourself available.
This one seems obvious, but I’ve met quite a few student pastors who were unavailable to parents in various ways.
As youth pastors, part of our job is to be out and about—at schools, sporting events, Christian clubs, etc. And if people don’t know when you’ll be physically available for meetings or phone calls, it can be difficult for them to feel connected to you.
Others, however, are emotionally unavailable. If you’ve been in youth ministry for any length of time, you’ve probably been confronted by an upset parent. Unfortunately, this is just part of ministry and life with people, but it can cause some youth pastors to put up a wall between their ministry and the parents of their students.
When parents feel this stiff arm, they will automatically take a defensive posture and this will hinder connection with parents as well. So make your “office hours” known, do your best to keep them, and make a point to communicate to parents the desire to connect with them in any way possible. Make sure that they know the door is open to them.
3. Communicate early and often.
There’s a reason secular sales wisdom says it will take 7 to 13 touches to drive a sale. We aren’t “selling” our parents anything, but the fact remains that families are busier than ever and it takes a great deal of intentionality to make sure everyone stays informed on what is going on in our ministries.
Think through your touches as you’re building your communication plan. You can include text messages, personal phone calls, automated phone calls, emails, snail mail, social media announcements, and personal announcements during church programming.
With all of these mediums for communication, its not hard to reach the 7-to-13 touches mark.
4. Don’t put yourself in the position of parenting expert.
One mistake many well-intentioned youth pastors make is to assume they’re the expert on someone’s student because God called them to youth ministry.
This is especially true for student pastors who don’t have kids of their own. I cringe to think advice I gave parents before I had any personal experience with parenting. Maybe you’re a parent of teenage or even older children; in this case I’m sure that you are a source of great wisdom and experience. But even still, giving parenting advice can be dangerous territory.
The approach I recommend is to read parenting books that can be referenced in parent meetings. This will allow you to point parents to great resources for further reading, provide valuable wisdom from credible voices, and become a resource and partner to parents.
5. Make parent meetings beneficial and easy to attend.
“I don’t understand why I can’t get parents to come to my parent meetings!”
Have the last few meetings consisted primarily of dates and rates for all your upcoming events? Take a look at the meeting agenda for your last five parent meetings. If 75% of the meeting was a calendar update, parents will not find these meetings beneficial. They’ll just wait for the email or the postcard you send home with their kids.
Another obstacle for many parent meetings is the time slot. Do your best to have meetings when parents are already going to be at church. If you can swing this on a Sunday morning, you don’t even have to arrange childcare, because kids and students can be in classes while you meet with their parents.
Every church is different so you’ll have to contextualize your plan. Where will their students go? Where will their younger kids go? Who is watching them? Do they need something to eat? What other factors may be in play?
6. Don’t expect parents to know how to disciple their kids.
Lastly, take it easy on parents. Most Christians have never been truly discipled by anyone.
I’ll never forget starting my first discipleship group and telling my guys I had never been discipled, and that we would have to figure this out together. Sometimes we place unrealistic expectations on parents who are very much just figuring this all out as they go. Give parents practical, easy-to-implement tools that can get them started on the discipleship journey with their kids.
JOHN PAUL BASHAM is manager of student publishing at Lifeway Christian Resources.