At The Orange Conference 2012, I led a breakout centered around this idea of: How does a youth pastor connect with parents of students?
Over the course of 2011-2012, I really tried hard to find practical ways for youth pastors to connect with parents since it is so difficult and many youth workers are intimidated to try it out. So after many conversations with many different youth pastors and relying on my past experiences, I compiled a list of practical ways to reach out to parents.
I argued that connecting with parents is not about taking one big step. It’s about taking many small, intentional, and strategic steps. It doesn’t matter if you are dealing with disengaged, engaged, involved, invested or aware parents. The goal is to get any type of parent to take one step in the right direction in order for them to connect with your youth ministry.
Connecting with parents is the first effort in partnering with parents in student ministry, which is why the connection process is so instrumental.
Connecting with parents in small daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly steps
• Act like every parent wants to connect with you. God cares about parents so youth pastors need to care. If we don’t believe parents want to connect with our student ministry, then we will start to blow off the parent connection. It is more about having a mindset that parents are primary. It is more about believing in them rather than putting on a program for them. Believe that parents want to become better parents and they want the best for their teen.
• Deliver on promises. Believing in parents and delivering on your promises are the two things that will get you more trust and respect with parents. Whatever you communicate or promise, please deliver on. Conclude youth group when you say you will. Arrive home from camp when you say you’ll be home. For example, when our youth group would come home from winter camp I would call one parent and let her know we were on our way home and give her an ETA. This appointed parent would call all the parents letting them know of our ETA.
• Protect teens. Safety is going to be parents #1 concern. Parents are entrusting you with their teen, so think like a parent. Think through best ways to protect and keep their teen safe. Complete background checks. Update and revise medical and liability release forms yearly. Stop the pranks, hazing, gossip and bullying. Have insured and reliable transportation. Make sure students buckle up.
• Return ALL calls and emails. Youth pastors hate the phone, but moms love the phone. So if a parent contacts you via email or phone, call or email them back!
• Respect parents. Parents are the primary influence– this is demonstrated in not only sociological research but in the Bible. So you got to respect the parent’s authority, perspective and rules. For example, when the youth ministry has it’s little sexy sex series, let parents know what will be talked about. Plus give parents an option to talk to their student about sex before some crazy 20 something youth pastor with a faux hawk informs them about virginity.
• Commit to praying for parents. This is so easy, but one of the hardest things to do. I simply pray over my parent roster. Nothing facy just a quick prayer for the health and wealth of the whole family.
• Get to know parents and meet with them. Youth pastors need to know parents as people, before parents know us as pastors. Knowing your families story will help you meet their needs as a family. Do contact work like you would do contact work with students. Meet parents where they are at. If a dad wants to meet at 5am. Do it. And dress accordingly.
• Create great environments for teens. Develop contagious environments so students have a great experience and want to come back. Parents love when their son and daughter love to do something other than playing video games or going to the mall.
• Communicate, communicate…reiterate. Communicate in multiple mediums. Try to find ways to integrate multiple mediums into one. Whenever communicating with parents do three things: inform, equip, encourage.
• Invite parents with a purpose. Plan an event where you are intentionally and strategically encourage parents to come to youth group. Having an open door policy is great, but most parents will not come. Have a plan on how you invite parents because parents need a reason to come into your student ministry environments.
• Be seen. Be seen on Sunday morning. Be seen either before, during or after church servie. On Sunday mornings parents are on your own turf, so expect to use a good chuck of your time to connect with parents. Be seen after youth group. Go into the parking lot and greet parents as they are picking up their kids. Be seen in the community i.e. sporting events, grocery store, coffee shops, mall etc.
MONTHLY and QUARTERLY
• Training for unchurched and churched parents. Create events that any parents can attend. Family issues are a felt need for any parent. Get licensed Christian counselors to host a seminar. Get your more committed and engaged parents to help plan and orchestrate the event. The goal is to get your disengaged parents to come so you can connect with them, so do an event that appeals to them. I had a lot of success doing parent events outside of the church walls.
Regardless of the size or style or cultural setting of your church, the issue of family is universal. – Joiner, Reggie. Think Orange pg. 229
• Listen. Listening = humility. Parents love to talk, so shut your mouth and listen to their concerns, thought and ideas. Send out a family assessment surveys so you can get an idea of what families are needing and wanting from their local youth ministry department. This assessment will give you great feedback and data on what your families are needing from their local youth ministry department.
• Value organization. Youth pastors are horrible at administration and organization. But in order to win over parents, organization is essential. Get a strategy and get organized. If you aren’t organized, find someone who is. I had a lot success recruiting moms who knew know to administrate like no other. Parents need to know you have all the details figured out. Create calendars and newsletters that inform parents about your plan and direction so they are in the “know”. I never had a parent tell me I was giving them to much information.
• Get parents early. Connect with parents right when their son/daughter is assimilating into your student ministry. Get parents in the elementary to middle school transition. And get parents in the middle school to high school transition. A parent is very open to connect when their son or daughter is moving into a new phase of teenage life.
• Find others who can help you. I am not a parent. So I never pretended like I could relate to parents. So I found parents who could help me. Plus parents hang out with parents and know the landscape of parenting a teen. In fact, I heard about one youth pastor who wanted to connect with parents so bad, he hired a parent to ONLY connect with the parents within his youth ministry. Also empty nesters can be a great resource.
Bottom line remember 3 things:
1. Get parents to take one small step in the right direction to connect with your youth ministry
2. These small steps will exponentially transform your parent partnership and connection.
3. Celebrate the small wins because connecting with parent is hard. So when a parent connects with you throw a party for yourself!
How do you connect with parents of students in the midst of your choatic youth ministry schedule?
What are some creative ways you have connected with parents?