Pop Quiz: Who has the biggest impact in the life of a teenager?
- Their friends?
- Their iPhone?
- Their parents?
The answer always seems to surprise people. The answer is… their parents.
Study after study reveals the same thing. The influence of Mom and Dad trumps it all. Consider Columbia University’s study about teen substance abuse as an example. For over two decades the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia has surveyed thousands upon thousands of teenagers and their parents in effort to identify factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of teen substance abuse. Their conclusion is simple: “We’ve learned that parents have the greatest influence on whether their teens will choose to use.”
So if parents have the biggest influence… then how come youth ministries often distance themselves from parents?
Let’s be honest. A bunch of us in youth ministry have begun our ministries with our eyes so focused on the kids… we forgot about the family. I’m simply suggesting that a healthy ministry needs to be thinking about reaching the whole family. Not to mention, it’s just smart ministry to work alongside parents since they do have the biggest impact in the kids’ life.
I’m going to take a giant leap. I’m going to assume you agree the church should reach the entire family, and that youth ministries often have access to families through their kids. So rather than devoting an entire article to convincing you of this point, I’m going to spend my time providing you with some practical tips to actually connecting and partnering with parents through your youth ministry.
Here are 4 ways youth ministries can be proactive about connecting & partnering with parents:
- Create Family Venues
How many of your events and activities include parents? Honestly… how many?
No, I’m not suggesting we obliterate youth ministry all together and turn it into family camp, I’m simply recommending we create some venues that parents and kids can experience together—maybe at least once a quarter.
This can be as simple as making youth group “family night” on occasion. Kids bring Mom, Dad, Auntie, or Grandma—whoever they live with—and get a chance to laugh and learn sitting next them. These venues are good opportunities to use creative games parents and teens play together. My church created a venue like this during the ‘Sunday School’ hour for the six weeks before the Easter missions trip. Parents and kids sat with each other in chairs on the gym floor worshipping together, playing mixers together and hearing God’s word together.
I’ve seen groups do special events like father-daughter dates, mother-daughter brunch, or weekend father-son backpack trips. The sky’s the limit. The key is to think beyond the typical divide that happens at church, when kids go one direction and parents go another.
But the key to making these kinds of connections happen is…
- More Than Just an Email
If I asked 100 youth ministry leaders, “Do you make an effort to communicate with parents?” 99 of them would say, “Of course.” But what does that actually look like? A parents meeting in the fall (because your senior pastor makes you do this)? Parent updates sent out via email and social media?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking these efforts. I used them myself. I’m simply proposing we make a proactive effort to actually connect face-to-face. Not just an email or Tweet, but a sincere effort to truly connect with parents, interact with them about their kids, and maybe even become a go-to resource for effective parenting tools. Wouldn’t it be great if your communication with parents expanded beyond the typical, “Dodgeball tournament this Friday” email, and opened up channels of communication where you could listen to felt needs, and maybe even sent out relevant resources in response, like these ‘ready-made’ Parenting Tips.
I know, I know. We don’t have time to connect with every parent every week… or even every month. But I do think we should make an effort to meet with each set of parents face-to-face at least once a year, then keep the door open to connecting much more than that, providing them with resources that help them. This begins by simply calling parents and saying, “I’d love to meet you.”
I’m always amazed the fruit that face-to-face contact with parents yields. I’ve had opportunities to share the Gospel with parents, invite them to church, even get them involved in Bible studies or small groups… which leads me to my next suggestion…
- Parent Small Groups
Last month I visited a church still using the traditional ‘Sunday School’ hour between services. During this hour, parents of teens and tweens met in a classroom for a class they called “Surviving Parenting Adolescence.” About 20 or 30 parents attend this class each week (while their kids are in middle school or high school Sunday School) and engage in relevant discussions about parenting, like this 4-week curriculum, Parenting Teens with Smartphones.
I’m meeting a growing number of churches who are expanding the job-description of the youth pastor to include providing these types of venues. These can be led by volunteers or paid staff.
My church has a similar class called The Family Zone, for parents of 6th -12th grade (I ran the class as a volunteer for years). I just finished a series in this class about how to tell the explicit truth about sex in a world of explicit lies.
I just visited another church who is starting up a similar group on Wednesday nights. They are going to use my Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone? workbook as their curriculum, using the small group questions we provided for each chapter.
These are great opportunities to train and equip parents “in house.” But every once in a while, it’s good to bring in someone else…
- Parent workshops.
Parents really seem to enjoy occasionally hearing from the person who wrote the parenting book they just read. Some churches have the budget for this, and I’ve worked with countless churches that partnered with other churches to make this happen.
In fact, senior pastors are often very supportive of this idea. Most times when Doug, Jim or I teach these workshops, it’s a church-wide event. We preach Sunday morning followed by a workshop that afternoon or evening.
Listen to what parents are feeling and experiencing, and bring in someone who can help parents with these felt needs.
What steps can you take to become proactive about connecting and partnering with parents?
What are the felt needs your parents have?
What venue might be a good start?
Who is a parent you can call right now and initiate this kind of connection?
Jonathan McKee is a DYM author (check out his resources here) and a frequent youth ministry speaker and trainer.