We continue our discussion on effective communication this week by looking at parents. We encounter a variety of parents in youth ministry. Parents who want their youth in church and are involved, parents who are somewhat interested but its not a big priority, and the parents who drop their kids and the door and leave, are just some of the variety we try and communicate with. So this week lets look at………
“What are effective ways you use to communicate with parents?”
Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor for Youth and College at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.
How often do you find yourself communicating with the parents of students? When one of them has sustained a busted chin (three this weekend…) or some other form of comparable injury? When two of them have been found tucked away in a corner or closet somewhere? When one of them says something that absolutely shatters the theological worldview of another one?
Orange Youth Curriculum did a study that concluded that, on average, your youth ministry will have direct contact with a student for less than 50 hours of their year. On the other hand, parents and families will spend close to 1000 hours of meaningful time with those same students. This is why intergenerational ministry is becoming such a prevalent model to follow. And this why solid communication with parents is absolutely vital to undergirding your youth ministry. With that being said, there are many different ways of going about doing it successfully. But what I have found to be the most meaningful tool in my communication with parents is to do it regularly, with a bent towards training, and always for the sake of making their life in your ministry and with their students an easier endeavor. Here are some suggestions from what I have found to work well:
1. Permission Slips, Parental Contacts, Info Database
If you aren’t constantly in the process of gathering contact data for the parents of the students who come in your doors, you are missing a fantastic opportunity to have a lasting role in the lives of yours students. This may come as a surprise to some, but parents like to see anyone else in their students’ lives who seem to have things under control. So throughout the year, I lean on different opportunities to get contact info for my parents: annual permission slips for activities when students bring them back for the first time, info cards at the beginning of the school year for Wednesday nights, etc. Then, as soon as I have some free time, I add these parent emails and phone numbers to a database—I simply use a group in my Gmail account so that I can email “Parents” with anything I might need to send out. You’d be surprised by how many students you will have coming regularly simply because you reached out to their parents in an organized and consistent manner!
2. ALL the Bible Studies I Write/Use Have a Parental Component
What I mean by this is that, for instance, in every Wednesday night lesson that our students do, I send out an email to parents that gives them a brief overview of the lesson, a basic conversational structure to continue learning in the home, and/or a project they can do with their students at home to keep them thinking about the Wednesday night lesson. For an example of this, head over to the “Resources” section and checkout the sample of the January Bible study series “Outward.”
3. Monthly Newsletter
At the beginning of each month, I send out a newsletter to parents that lets them know about the major activities that are coming up for the month, as well as an educational article that will help them to better understand their teen or the culture that they are growing up in. With this newsletter, I will also attach payment schedules for major events that are coming up (if you really want to step up your communication game and impress parents, trying shaping an annual payment schedule based on your activities for the year so that they can pay for all of the year’s events in installments instead of in lump sums when activities are upon them!), and any other detailed activity sheets they might need.
4. Preferred Social Media Platform
Parents use social media too! The reality is that it’s just probably a different medium than the ones your students use. In my particular context, I communicate with students through Twitter and Instagram, and I communicate with parents through Facebook. Find ways to use these tools affectively. Create a youth page, post on your personal page, and post on the church’s page if there is one to reach as many people as possible with whatever it is you may be communicating.
Sara Clarke Turpin is the Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Buechel Park Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. Her education includes a M.Div. from the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in 2013, along with a B.A. in Religion and a B.S. in Business Administration from Georgetown College in 2009. She was ordained by Buechel Park in March 2014 and has served as a minister with youth for over 5 years. In her free time, Sara enjoys playing the flute, taking walks at the park, exercising at the Y, and binge-watching Netflix shows with her wonderfully supportive husband, Neal.bio.
Over the years, I’ve tried many ways of communicating with parents. Though none are 100% effective, these are the tools and methods that are currently working for me:
The best tool I have found for communication is an online Google presentation I call the “Youth News.” I keep this slideshow updated with all public information about our Youth Ministry. I include the link in emails, on Facebook, and even in text messages. It’s embedded on our webpage. It’s also easy to print individual slides to use as mini-posters on bulletin boards around church and to print handouts for distribution. Before Bible studies and other youth gatherings, it’s looping on the TV. This versatility allows me to update information in one place, yet make it available through a wide variety of formats. It’s easily accessible and shareable.
Every Monday, I send out a weekly update email to all of my youth ministry contacts: parents, volunteers, and even those rare youth that actually use email. Along with the Youth News, included in this message are “A Few Things to Know” with 2-4 of the most important things that I want parents to be caught up on, “Youth Ministry Needs,” and “This Week’s Volunteers.” This serves not only as a reminder of what is happening, but provides an opportunity for readers to reply directly to me with questions and responses.
I make use of our church-wide publications the best that I can. I make sure important announcements make it into the bulletin each week, are voiced from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, and are included in monthly newsletters. It’s important not to isolate youth ministry and to keep the church as a whole updated on what’s going on. In this way, we can all work together to connect the disconnected.
Facebook Group and Page
We have a public Facebook Page, linked to our website, where I post public announcements, as well as updates and photos during youth events. We also have a secret group only for approved adults, where I am able to ask questions of parents/volunteers, post helpful articles about youth and ministry, and provide a private place of support for our parents.
Finally, though this is probably the most effective, it can be difficult to maintain on my own. Taking a moment to approach or call or text a parent takes time and effort. And there’s potential that I may speak to some families more often than others, depending on how often I see them. However, if the foundation of available communication is there, this is where I can really strive to welcome youth and their families into fellowship and ministry together. Because I am not able to do all of this myself, I stress to youth, parents, volunteers, and the church that I need their help. Together, we can encourage, welcome, and share information with one another, so that we can draw others in to our communication efforts. It takes all of us to develop communication that goes beyond newsletters and into personal invitation.