How Are You Engaging Parents in Your Youth Ministry?

Parents reach out
Are you connecting with the parents of your students? (iStock photo)

The "nontraditional family" has become the "traditional" family. The U.S. census indicates that more than 3 million grandparents in the United States are raising their grandchildren.

I have found on some websites discussing the issue of "fatherlessness" that one in three children is born to a never-married parent. We are encountering parents who are aunts, uncles, friends, fostering or "house parents" in a group home. It's easy to get so focused on who the parent is not that I forget to see who the parent is.

When engaging parents, I was blaming "them" when the true issue was in my own attitude. It begins with respect and honor. When Jesus looks at us, He sees us the way His creation was intended. He sees us as redeemed. His heart yearns for us to be whole and walk fully in His ways. I had to shift the way I saw the home and embrace the fact that Christ wants every parent to be His.

Practically speaking, I had to figure out ways to engage the parent:

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Sign students up

Have students (if you don't already) fill out some sort of start-of-year registration. On that, ask for parent or guardian information. Also ask for the names of any other adults living in the home and their relationship to the student and the parent/guardian. (e.g., "stepfather" may actually be Mom's new boyfriend.)

Get all pertinent contact info--home phone, email, Facebook address, parental cell phone. The more contact info the better. Ask students to update this every couple of months in case anything changes.

Do you even know them?

Do you show parents the regard they deserve? Not based on whether or not you think they are doing a "good job," instead knowing a student spends most of their time under the headship of their home. Help parents see themselves as who God means them to be.

Do you make sure to reach out and say hi? Have you walked to the door and introduced yourself? If you pick their child up, do you beep the horn and wait for the student? Or do you walk to the door and say a simple hello?

Try this "trick": Between you and your team, split up the list of your students. Once a month call home. Have a two- or three-minute conversation with the parent. Tell them why you love their kid. You have no idea how much this will get you "in."

Ask what they want

We create programs and agendas for parents based on an assessment of what we think they want (or decide they need). Often we are surprised when it isn't what they are looking for. Try brainstorming with parents about some things that will help them grow as a parent. Then offer ONE thing they asked for. Don't be upset at the "numbers" that show up. Just wait. You have listened, and it will go far.

Start at the beginning with parents, and don't be afraid to ask for more information. You may be shocked at how far this takes you.

What are you doing to connect with parents?

Leneita Fix is the director of ministry development for Aslan Youth Ministries, a family-focused urban ministry serving Monmouth County in New Jersey and Haiti. She has been working in some form of youth and family ministry for almost 22 years.

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