Connecting with parents. Getting them in your corner. Getting them to volunteer and be involved in your ministry. We all know we need them, but how in the world do we successfully connect with them and create strong partnerships? The answer oddly enough is found in an unlikely place, that I would bet many of you had not thought of looking. Teachers. For those who teach, parent relationships are a big part of the job. Especially private school teachers. These professionals often have it perfected. As a private school teacher, it is parents who pay the bills, so that connection is vital.
So I went back into my archives to some of the best practices that I have learned over the years that not only keep us, as youth leaders, connected to parents but getting and keeping them in our corner and involved in the spiritual formation and discipleship of our students. It is easy to forget how vital parents are, so here are a few ways that will help make this priority into a habit and will transform those relationships between you, your leaders, and parents.
Use Email… A lot
No news is good news, right? Not necessarily. Far too often, parents hear from adult leaders, teachers, and pastors only when their child has done something wrong. Why not change that trend? When I was teaching, we were required to send a minimum of one email a week to a parent of a student that had done something really well. Maybe an assignment, a character win, or some other example of behavior that could be celebrated.
What started out as a bit of a chore and just one more thing to do, turned into a habit that we all looked forward to. Unexpectedly, teachers began to look for students doing what is right rather than focusing on what is to be avoided. No news is not good news—it’s no news. So give parents some good news. Celebrating their student will send the message that you are a partner in raising their kids. Start small by sending one email a week. A different student each week, until you have sent a least one email to every student. If you have more than 50 students, delegate to small group leaders as a required part of being a leader. I guarantee it will make a difference in your ministry and the relationships you have with parents.
Tell Parents How Great Their Kids Are… To Their Face
Emails are great, but can be informal, are often overlooked, and lack quality interaction between you and the parent. How do schools solve this problem? Conferences. Yes, it is true, most teachers hate conferences. But we also see the value in them. My first year teaching I had over 150 students in several different classes. When conferences came along, every parent wanted to meet me—all of them. I met with every parent, prayed with every parent, listened to every parent, and more importantly; connected with every parent.
For a while, I was the punch line of nearly every joke among the staff, but looking back, I wouldn’t change it. Yes, this takes time, but there is no substitute for dedicating time aside to meet with parents. Especially the parents you struggle with (or the ones struggling with you). So often they just want to know that they are being heard and that you are in their corner. What seems like a difficult conversation could end up your biggest win.
Pray With Them And For Them
This might seem slightly obvious, but so much of our ministry is focused on only students when it ought to be focused on the entire family. No matter your age, life experience, or ministry experience, parents are looking to you for help. So don’t just pray for them, but pray with them. Don’t let a meeting begin or end without praying with them. Ask how you can help. I remember being required to pray with parents anytime I met with them—whether for 5 minutes or 55 minutes. At first, I complained that it seemed forced and at times it was hard to be genuine. But once it became a habit, it not only changed how parents saw me, but how I saw them. Once I saw their struggles and their vulnerability, I saw them as people, not just parents. And the more I understood the parents, the better I was able to minister to my students.
There is nothing like sharing a meal. It screams community, connection, and friendship. Invite some of your key parents over for a meal. Cook it for them. Share your home with them. Allow them to meet your family and step into your life a bit. But don’t ask for help, don’t ask for more volunteers, etc. Don’t make it about ministry, only about community and friendship. Your vulnerability will help them stand by your side and help you further your ministry with their students.
Offer Parent Versions Of What You Are Teaching Students
Now, this wasn’t always successful with every parent, but for those that took advantage, it was greatly appreciated. Every few months throughout the year I would offer parent education nights. I would either present a topic or call in an expert to cover a relevant topic that helps parents connect with their kids, teach them about student culture, etc. The goal was to be a resource to parents in every way possible. It doesn’t have to be a specific event. After all many parents won’t have the time. Offer a short email compiling blogs and podcasts or create your own podcasts. The possibilities are endless.
However, don’t focus on what you think they need to hear. Start with what they need. So ask them. Get used to repeating this phrase over and over: “How can I be a help to you?” It sends the message to the parents that you are for the entire family. Ministering to their kids is just part of the job of the youth pastor. Do whatever you can to help build the strength of the family.
These are just five of the ways that I have found to great practices over a decade of teaching. I promise you will find that parents will not only be easier to work with, but they will work harder at getting their kids to youth group, they will be more willing to volunteer when needed, but that they will be your advocate when the time comes. Youth ministry is taxing work. You need people in your corner. Parents that are well informed, involved, and on your side will provide greater insight and feedback, making your job all the easier. But there are far more than just five.
So what has worked for you?