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. Tee It Up For Them
Most youth ministries do not think about parents when they plan events. You think about the students loving the event and what the student can get out of it. This mindset isn't necessarily a bad thing, obviously you want students to love the events you put on but I believe that there is a crucial piece missing.
What if you took your events and designed some of them for parents to have the winning conversation with their child. You are probably good at setting up a great environment for your students to learn or have an encounter with God. It’s probably easy for you to get up and craft an incredible message about the harmful affects of pornography, the importance of purity, identity in Christ etc. I would imagine you are used to having those serious conversations with students and challenging them in their faith when it comes to the issue at hand. Where there is a drop off is the follow up, accountability and follow through with commitments that are being made. Lets be honest, we get to see our students for a few hours a week tops. This is where I think youth ministry can take huge steps in designing meaningful experiences, include mom and dad and allow parents to be the primary disciple makers and provide accountability to their own kids.
When you set mom and dad up to have the winning conversation you communicate that you understand their God given role as a parent. Parents usually aren't great at carving out time to have the kind of talks they should be having with their kids. Take the guess work out of it and make space for them to enter into the dialogue.
What you can do today:
Think critically about some of the events you currently do or dream up a new one. Here are some ideas to get your brain moving in the right direction.
Mother Daughter Mud Run - Create a mud obstacle course and set up Moms to have a conversation about their daughters identity in Christ.
Father Son Event - Flag football and a chili cook-off to set up dads to have a conversation about pornography and sexual integrity with their son.
Father Daughter Ball - Host a formal event where everyone gets dressed up has a nice meal, maybe even have some dancing and set up dad to talk about sexual integrity with their daughter and how they will fight with them and for them when it comes to this matter.
Mother Son Adventure Race - The amazing race on TV has some incredibly compelling challenges and is fun to watch. You as a youth pastor can probably create something just as fun for moms and their sons to experience. Plan it all to set mom up to have a conversation about how to treat the opposite sex and what being a man of God looks like from their perspective.
These are just ideas, what could it look like for your student ministry at your church!
2. Options For Them
Most parents enjoy being a part of what their kids are a part of. Think about the community rec sports landscape. How many dads and moms volunteer to coach their kids soccer team or little league team and have really no business being the coach? They do it because they want their child to have an awesome experience playing that sport. I believe that they would do the same thing for your ministry if they realized there was a need and that there were different options for them to serve and be a part of your student ministry.
There are parents that would be rock star small group leaders, worship leaders, game inventors, set designers, curriculum developers, light programmers, cafe workers, etc. They are missing the personal ask or the option to use their gifts. Can you create enough options for every parent in your ministry to have a meaningful serving opportunity? That is more of a challenge than anything else. There are parents that honestly do not want to serve in the same place their kids attend but there are some that are waiting for you to ask them or show them options of how they could plug in.
What you can do today:
Start writing down different ways you could utilize parents in your ministry. Think outside the box and start dreaming about what could be. Create 3 new opportunities that currently aren't options in your ministry. Get ready to send out those opportunities and see what happens.
3. Plan For Them
Your ministry calendar usually revolves around the school schedules in your community. Do you think about families when you plan events or give families the space to spend time together? Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving are all holidays where you have to make a decision on when to have programming and when not to, or when to schedule an event and when not to. Consider that families are looking for chances to spend together in the midst of the busyness of life. Help your families out with your schedule, realize the need for family time and plan accordingly.
What you can do today:
Send out a survey to your parents and ask them about the holidays, when it would be good to have programming or an event and when it would be detrimental. Get good data before you make decisions. This will endear you to parents if they know you are thinking about them before you plan.
What are you doing to INCLUDE parents in youth ministry?
Your calendar is not getting any less full. Like me, I am sure your personal calendar is stuffed, your work calendar is jammed and then you have the calendar your mother in law expects you to follow… hers! Calendars dictate your time but also can tell you when you are free! I can't tell you how to manage your personal calendar but I could send you a template email to send to your mother in law (insert appropriate emoji). Your youth ministry calendar is the one that you have an opportunity to leverage.
There is a natural rhythm to the ministry you oversee. Most of the time it's dictated by school breaks, your personal life and adult leaders availability. Let's scrap that mind set for a second and look at the calendar with a different filter. Look at your calendar and ask yourself, when would I have the biggest opportunity to build relationally with students? Every church is different, schools have different calendars and there are certain variables in each context. You are in charge of the calendar for youth ministry. Are you leveraging it well?
When do you kickoff certain ministries? Does it line up with a natural rhythm of school and family life for your students?
Kickoffs and Ending Celebrations are momentum builders that set up the future. Natural calendars for families, school, etc are already in place. Build your ministry calendar to line up with those so you can maximize your time together.
Are you planning activities during school breaks to make the most of relational time with your students?
Every school break that lasts more than 1 day is an opportunity to schedule some hangout time and have fun with your students and their friends. Whether its sports, video games, board games, taco bell, movies, etc, you have an opportunity to build relational equity by giving your students something to go do!!
Do your big weekends make sense for your students AND their families?
There is nothing worse than planning an event that happens to fall at the same time as a massive school event, sports, or weekend where nearly every family at your church decides to go somewhere. Make sure you schedule your D-Now weekend or fall retreat when the majority of your students have no conflicts. Choose the week of summer camp when you know your athletes and marching band kids wont practice. Make your Kickoff to the school year before school starts so you can actually celebrate without a wave of anxiety creeping in, or kickoff well after school started so your students actually are optimistic about the school year.
Do you just do the same thing or do you try new things and mix it up for your crew?
Please, try new things out. Please, try and fail instead of relying on the same events or programs to get the job done. Your students need you to try, be creative and risk failing in order to get to a final product that is awesome! Try something new and fail, its all good!!!
Your calendar can be the most freeing thing if you are strategic about it and intentional about when you do what you do. Have the students in mind first and your leaders will get on board. Cast vision well and pray like crazy for God to do some amazing things in the youth ministry you have the great privilege of overseeing for this season of your life!
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.