Parents are often a source of frustration as a youth pastor. They either don't value your programming like they should or are highly critical of whats going on at the church. You have to get past the urge to not care about them. The truth is they care, and care a lot. They, more than likely, have no idea how to do your job and the nuances/pressure that goes with it. Instead of holding a grudge, being dismissive or writing them off, what if you started building bridges with the parents of the students at your church?
Here are a few things you can start doing right now to make parents a priority and communicate to them how important they are! (You can get all 21 ways to make parents a priority HERE!)
1. Value Them
Parents want to know that they are valued. They want to know that you don’t take them for granted, you don’t just want to use them and the resources they represent and that you don’t just want their signature on forms, so their kid can go to a trampoline house without threat of legal ramifications. Parents want to know that you value them as a parent, their family and maybe most of all their child that they are entrusting you with.
One of the biggest ways you show parents how much you value them is how much of an interest you take in their child’s life. The most significant investment you can make for the entire family is pouring into the students that call your student ministry home base.
Get to know the students that call your church their home church. The families that are highly invested at your church need to know that you value their student and the investment they are making. They will almost feel entitled to that treatment because of what they do for the church at large or because they give a lot to the church. You have to manage that tension by loving your students well and casting a great vision for parents and students. There is nothing you can do to value parents more than spending time with their student and their friends.
Get to know the students that have no church home but show up for your student ministry nights. For the students that walk through the doors without a church home you are the link between everyday life and the life changing message of Jesus. You can make such a massive difference in the lives of those families. I have seen families start coming to church because their middle schooler started showing up to student ministry nights. Those family’s lives were forever changed because of the investment made by you the youth pastor to get to know their student in a deep way.
What you can do today:
1. Get a group together for breakfast before school or just because. Nothing says quality time like all you can eat pancakes and random conversations.
2.Call new students and talk to their parents, thanking them for allowing them to be a part of the night and ask them if they have any questions. Open the door and let them in!
3.Go to your studentsevents, especially the ones that mean the most to them. Show up to a sporting event, musical, concert that your students are involved in and make sure you talk to the parents that are present.
Taking interest in their student tells parents that their family matters to you and that they are valuable.
2. Write Them
I don’t really know anyone that doesn't like to get meaningful mail. I’m not talking about the spam mail with the used car scratch off sweepstakes. I’m talking about those cards or letters that were hand written by someone that cares about you. Hand written notes let people know that you took time out of your busy day to think about them.
One of the most impactful things you can do is write handwritten notes to parents. Encourage them, let them know that you are available for them if they need anything, tell them how great their student is and make sure they know how to get a hold of you.
What would the trajectory of your ministry be if you valued families that much to write parents and encourage them as they journey down the difficult path of parenting teenagers?
You can get cheap stationary from any big box store or you can get postcards made pretty cheap from a number of different online vendors that can be branded with your student ministry logo. There are options there, just do something!
What you can do today:
Pick 5 families that pop into your mind and take 30 minutes and write them notes. As you are writing them make sure to pray for them as well. It’s a great opportunity to focus your prayers on specific families and what they are going through.
3. Encourage Them
Parenting a teenager can be downright discouraging. It only takes a few months of being a student pastor to figure out that some parents are feeling like they are failing at this parenting through the teenage years. One of the most valuable things you can as a student pastor is to encourage the parents in your ministry.
If you think about all the tough conversations you need to have with middle school and high school students, just multiply that by 100 and that’s a snapshot of parenting that age group. The majority of the time the parents in your ministry feel isolated and alone. They have to know they have someone cheering them on, someone to talk to, a group of people to bounce ideas off of.
Encourage the parents in your ministry by creating space for them. Encourage parents in your ministry by encouraging them verbally, through email, through a hand-written note. Encourage them by letting them know how you are seeing their teenager grow in their faith. Encourage them by gathering groups of parents together to have open conversations about issues they are going through. They have to know that what they are doing is enough (if it is). They have to know that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Parents need to be encouraged and you are sitting, as the student pastor, in the perfect spot to make that happen.
What you can do today:
Start encouraging!!!! Get a list of all the families in your ministry and write one or two encouragement notes a week.
Think about a couple in your church, empty nesters, that would be willing to host a group of parents and lead them through a Godly parenting curriculum. This is an awesome way to build up your parents and use other parents in your church that have been there and done that to encourage and challenge
Don't wait to make parents know how much you care! Get a strategy around parents and try!
You are the authority on youth ministry at your church. Yes…YOU! It is your responsibility to walk alongside families and through the ups and downs of adolescence give them tools, resources, encouraging words, challenges, and opportunities to raise their teenager. One of the ways that is most effective is setting up parents to have the winning conversation with their child, instead of you! Most of the time we are thinking about events for our families to attend at our church on our time.
What if you didn't create another event that brought families to you and your church building? What if you gave parents or caring adults a kit to take the conversation to their home?
Subscription boxes are all the rage right now in just about every area of life. Why not make a box for parents to take home and have an experience with their son or daughter that leads to a life giving, crucial conversation?
You can do this! Its not difficult, it just takes some strategy, some thought, some fun and many hands to make all these boxes happen.
What could come in the Mom/Daughter Box:
-Two mugs- ones that you can design yourself with a sharpie then bake to make the mug design permanent
-Hershey kisses or dove chocolate
-Conversation guide- this is where you need to be strategic
-Things to Remember
-design the experience so the caring adult doesn't have to think about it!
-set the stage for what you want to talk about.
My recommendation is talking about identity. This world throws so many things at teenage girls and a lot of times it’s hard to cut through the lies and get to the truth of who God says that they are. Design the conversation and questions to focus around who God says that they are.
What could come in the Dad/Son Box:
-Make your own chili kit
-Interactive type game(Fun for teenage boys)
-we made up a game using a deck of cards where each suit required something different.
-hearts = push ups
-diamonds = sit ups
-spades = questions to answer honestly
-clubs = special challenges (random acts of silliness)
-Conversation guide - Be strategic with this conversation
-Things to Remember
-design the experience so that it’s a win for the adult AND the teenage boy.
-make the experience line up with the conversation
My recommendation is talking about purity and pornography. Our teenage guys are inundated with sexually explicit media at every turn. It’s harder than ever to keep your mind focused on good wholesome things. The only way to combat this is to get caring people involved in their lives and actually talk about it. It’s an awkward conversation to talk about porn with a teenager but it needs to happen. The conversation shouldn't point towards shame but the freedom we have from this through Jesus.
The pictures at the top of this post give you an excerpt from the conversation guides for each of these conversations, think of what this could look like for your church and your students.
Give the caring adult that is bold enough to tackle these conversations everything. Think through the entire experience and make sure to give them step by step instructions, even if you think it’s obvious. Leave no detail out! The conversation is the most important part, but the experience will earn them the right to talk about the topic openly and honestly.
Remember, if you are the only one having important conversations with your students then chances are in the long run you lose. Get parents involved and give them the keys to conversations that matter.