“Parents? What do we need parents for? They are just going to try to control what I do and turn a fun event into something boring. Teens will NOT want to come to an event where their parents are.” That was my mentality for the first 5-6 years of my youth work. I never really wanted parents to be involved as I felt it was my job to take the burden off of them and support them in their efforts to raise Christlike teens. Have you ever felt that way?
I wish I could say that my mindset instantly changed once I got to Cedar Run but it did not. However, my mentality began to gradually change once I got there to the point now where I have consistent parental involvement in our youth program.
What changed? My thought process. In the years before, I kept on looking for reasons why parents should not be involved and how they would negatively impact our group. But, as a non-mega-church, I had to stop looking at the negatives and start looking at the positives. If we were going to have the impact I desired, I realized that we needed parents to be more involved. As I had parents more involved I saw the benefits they offered.
Some of the benefits I have seen having parents involved were:
- They could be a positive role model, showing teens that parents do care and are involved, in a healthy way, in the life of their children
- When asked, parents step up and are reliable. Parents want to help. After all, they help with sport teams, school activities and community events. Why wouldn’t they be able to help with church stuff?
- By having parents involved in some way, it promotes your event and hopefully you will draw more students to whatever you are doing.
- It takes the burden off of you to do one more thing. For instance, providing food for an event. If parents help out, you can focus on other details of the event rather than wondering how you are going to get the right amount of food.
The benefits of having parents involved are there. The question is, are you utilizing them? For me, a simple change in my thought process has made all the difference.
Two Kinds of Involvement
I believe there are 2 kinds of parental involvement you can have. The first one is General Involvement. This is where any parent can participate and help out. There are plenty of opportunities for this kind of involvement to take place. If you need snacks or drinks for a youth event, you could have any of your parents help you out. Another way they can help is for special events. For example, in order to make our Super Bowl Bash a no cost event, we have parents provide all the food. Not only is it home-cooked and better than take-out, but then the parents get to see the huge turnout and see, if just briefly, our ministry in action.
Another way parents can help you and your ministry is by supporting your family. That’s right, I said it, supporting your family. Youth Pastors and Ministers work odd hours and days, but that is our calling. In the same way, parents have callings too and it might just be to serve you! Imagine that, someone serving you for a change. I have had numerous offers by parents who actually wanted to babysit my 4 beautiful daughters for free or offer a meal, especially during a rough week. We have to allow these ministers to serve us. Do not let pride get in your way of them serving you. However, I do want to caution you, do not try to take advantage of other’s spiritual gift and hospitality. I know we do not get paid much, but that is no reason to take advantage and abuse the goodness of others. Remember, it is ultimately the Lord who will meet all your needs (Philippians 4:16). Allow parents to support you AND your family, but we wise in not taking advantage of their generosity.
The second kind is Core Involvement. Core Involvement is a group of parents you select to help you. This is NOT for everyone. These are parents who are strong supporters of the youth program and are ones you have built a relationship with. In addition, these are parents who:
- Are caring individuals who support you and want to help and serve you and your family
- Have a healthy family life (as healthy as can be known – no family is perfect, but hopefully you can identify families that are more healthy than others)
- Have excellent spiritual lives – you will benefit from their conviction and commitment to Christ
The purpose of your Core Involvement parents is two-fold. First, they are to help you process ministry issues, decisions and direction. At non-Mega-Churches, it is highly unlikely that you will have multiple staff to bounce ideas off of and process information. By having these parents, you will be able to process these issues and decisions that come up with others who want the best for the program. Keep in mind, though, that you are still the ultimate decider on issues. You want parents involved but you have to be the one who has the final say. Otherwise, as great as they may be, these parents may feel that they choose the direction of the program and you could have a whole new set of problems on your hands.
At Cedar Run, I was blessed as we had some people who started, ran and held high positions in businesses in the area. They were well educated, successful and knew what it took to run a profitable business. In addition, they were huge supports of my family and me. So, I gathered these men (it started with 2 and eventually became a core of 4 after 2 years) and we began meeting together every 2-3 weeks to catch up on the latest news in the ministry, check in how they could help my family and me personally and how we are doing in fulfilling the mission of the youth program. Each area that we covered was important because it kept them up to speed on the latest news and it helped me process how to best manage the youth program. Having these men involved in helping me process has been invaluable to me!
If you do not have these types of people in your church, John Fontanella, from Gateway Community Church in Herndon, VA, told me the other day how he was tackling this issue. He is getting ready to enroll in an MBA program to help him be an effective manager of his youth program. What a great idea! As he explained his reasons, it made perfect sense as Youth Pastors are great at relational ministry, but management is not always our strong suit. As your ministry grows and your duties expand, you are going to need to focus more time and energy on management of people and direction and less on direct ministry. I know that relationships are the main reason we got into youth ministry, but if we overlook this key training and help, we will not be as effective as we can and should be. Whether you find a core group of men walk side-by-side with you or you decide to enroll in an MBA program, this can be extremely helpful. (By the way, John gave me the go ahead to for you all to email him with any and all questions about the MBA program – firstname.lastname@example.org).
Secondly, your Core Involvement parents help promote the youth ministry and events to other parents in and outside the church. I have found that even thought I have informative newsletters and send out weekly emails to parents, a good amount of parents still do not know what exactly we do and why we do it. Therefore, having this core team of parents adds just one more way for the parents to be hearing what is happening in the youth program. The great thing about this is that parents are hearing about this from excited parents! That goes a long way because they are not hearing it from me, but from a parent, just like themselves.
I believe that we all need a core group of parents to help us in our work. Whether it is a core group of men that help you process ministry or a group of parents (4-6) that meet every other month to go over upcoming events and news it does not matter. The key is that you surround yourself with some people to help you be more effective. This group enables that to happen.
Thinking Outside the Box
Have you ever thought about doing contact work with parents? That was thinking outside the box for me as I never would have dreamed or even desired to do contact work with parents. But, now I wish I could say that I came up with this idea. My Senior Pastor asked me to do this as he felt that this not only helps parents feel that they know what is going on in the youth program, it also allows me to get the pulse of the families in our Church and challenges they may or may not be having. It could be a simple phone call or email. Or, it could be a time where you go over and meet the parents and sit down with them. The point is that by doing this, you show them that you care about them and their needs. Plus, you may get some great insights on students and family issues that you would not normally have known about. As great as this opportunity may be, do not be offended if parents did not respond, maybe they do not have anything to talk about. The point is that you offered and by offering, you showed them that you cared.
As I have learned over the years, parental involvement is key to youth ministry. It may have taken some time to start using their help, but when you have the parents helping and committing time and effort into your ministry, you AND the student will be blessed.
TAKE A MINUTE and…
- Identify your needs and seek parents to help as part of your General Involvement. You may need admin help, food needs, planning help or something completely different. Whatever it is, identify your needs and seek these parents for help in those areas.
- Identify 2-3 parents who have a child or children in your youth program that can be apart your Core Involvement Group. They can come along side you and help you process and set the course for the youth program.
- Start doing contact work with parents of your youth. Ask them to coffee or lunch and share with them your vision and desire for students. Who knows, out of that time, you may have much more support from them now that you have spent time with them and shared your vision and heart. This has benefited me so much as parents feel heard and that you value them.
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