GUEST POST by DYM Author Eric Ferris
To this day I remain astonished that parents trusted me to take their kids on my first ever missions trip. I was 23 years old and they let me take their kids across the pond to England and Wales. As a father now with my own kids in middle school and high school, I appreciate what HUGE trust that was! I still think it was a little nuts.
I went to a Bible College to be trained in youth ministry. I really appreciate the training I received. As I look back, there was one class I wish I could have taken. A class on parents! Let’s face it, you’ve got be a lot older than the average youth pastor to have personal experience being the parent of a teenager. Even if you have your first kid at age 20, you’ll be at least 31 before that kid enters your youth ministry. How do you build a bridge to span the decade or two of age and experience gap between the average youth pastor and the parents in your church?
Here are a few golden tips I’ve picked up in the last 20+ years of youth ministry that have helped me build trust and rapport with parents. I’m not gonna lie, nothing replaces having your own kids in the youth ministry because being able to say “me too” to a parent is powerful. However, just because you don’t have kids of your own in the ministry doesn’t mean you can’t understand, encourage, and equip the parents in your church.
THREE EASY TIPS FOR BEING AWESOME WITH PARENTS (yeah…there’s more, but this is a great start!)
- Be a Resource– I’ve heard youth pastors tell me that they avoid trying to help parents because they don’t have teenagers themselves. That’s an excuse likely based on insecurity or intimidation. Don’t cop out. You don’t have to have personal experience to be a resource. You likely know more than you think you do. Give yourself some credit! Plus, sometimes not being wrapped up in a situation emotionally (like most parents are because they love their kids) makes your objectivity helpful. Take time to listen to parents. You may not be able to give great advice, but anyone can listen. Here’s the tip: Identify your five “go to” parenting books to which you can refer parents. There’s lots of good ones out there. By doing so you’ll help parents, communicate care, and build trust.
- Be on Time– Do you know what annoys me more than anything else as parent? Waiting in my car for my kids. When a coach says practice ends at 6:30p, they should end at 6:30p. When a band trip is supposed to return to the school at a certain time, they should be back at that time. Do I sound like a curmudgeon? I promise that this is how most parents feel waiting in the church parking lot. Parents are busy juggling the schedules of multiple humans in their house. You care for families when you don’t waste their time. Here’s the tip: Be militant about dismissing your programs on time and pad your trip schedule to have more time than you need to return to the church. Better to return early and the kids wait for the parents than vice versa. In the rare case that your trip is getting back late, get those kids on their phones to give parents a warning. There are likely dozens of GPS’s on that bus or in those vans, so you should be able to pinpoint an arrival time.
- Be Clear– Great communication is not super-difficult, but it does take a few extra minutes of thought. You are doing great if your registration form, email, newsletter, or webpage has very clear info. Parents have to keep track of lots of stuff (and single parents have it even tougher). Parents need to know what (details) and why (purpose). If they are going to pay money and get it on the family calendar, you help them make choices by communicating exactly what an event is meant to accomplish (fun?, outreach?, discipleship?, etc). Work on being able to communicate the purpose of an event in one sentence. The clarity you gain is worth the extra effort and will likely make your event better too! Here’s the tip: Communicate far in advance (farther than you think necessary), communicate often (more often than you think necessary), and pound parents with communication the week leading up to a deadline. You know how that works…everyone signs up last minute, right? Parents will appreciate the extra communication as a deadline approaches, not resent it. Oh..and an extra bonus if you find a parent to edit your stuff so you get a parent perspective on your communication. If you‘re not a parent yourself, you may be surprised what FAQ’s parents will have.
Being awesome with parents makes you super-awesome with students. It’s not an age thing. It’s an intentionality thing. Want an easy way to get better? Check out the U<60 Parent Resources on DYM to equip yourself and encourage the parents in your church!