5 Ways Youth Pastors Need to Connect With Parents
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 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.
Send weekly notes via email
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 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.
Meet regularly with parents (to tell them how great their kid is)
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
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 ways to teach them 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 resource 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 5 of the ways that I have found to great practices over a decade of teaching. I promise that 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?
Executive Director of AwanaYMSteve currently serves as the Executive Director of AwanaYM. Previously, Steve spent over a decade teaching high school theology and apologetics from Detroit to LA. Steve holds a Masters degree in Theology from Moody Theological Seminary and a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Steve is also an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He speaks and writes on youth ministry, youth culture and apologetics. He resides in Chicago, IL with his wife and four children.
Follow Steve Kozak on Twitter: stevenmkozak
Get the AwanaYM Update
Receive youth ministry resources in your inbox. Subscribe today!