I want to start off with a full disclosure statement. While I’ve been in student ministry for over 26 years at this point, and while I’ve long felt that truly effective ministry to students MUST involve a true ministry to their parents, and while I hold the firm conviction that our role as student ministry pastors and leaders needs to support parents, not supplant them… I have always found myself trying new things in search of the right approach that will help the ministry I serve reach its full potential in all those ways. This is a fluid area of ministry that morphs to meet the needs of today’s parents. So please take what’s valuable to your context and leave the rest.
Now that we’re clear on that, let me share with you what I have seen are 3 effective practices and principles that will help you partner with parents of students.
The most critical piece of ministering to parents is your availability.
It’s not just that you must BE available, but you must be sure to APPEAR available to parents. Many times those we serve can view us as “too busy” to stop and listen, help, or support them. This piece is critical to consider because your perception as inaccessible is very likely inadvertent. Be sure to use language that promotes your desire to partner with them. Leverage technology that reinforces that. Be physically present at church gatherings, standing still if at all possible. If you hold office hours let those be known; carve out specific times when you welcome parents to meet with you either via phone, video call, or in person.
The next way to partner with parents is through aggregating resources.
There are too many high-quality resourcing ministries for you to have an excuse to NOT be ready to provide great content to parents for pretty much any situation they can face. I personally recommend Axis and its thorough library of parenting resources. The Foundry is the publishing arm of The Church of the Nazarene and their website has some resources for parenting young people as well. Put together a small library, create a page on your church’s website, or dedicate a high-traffic area in your church building where parents can stop and grab resources. Put a sticker on the back of each with your church’s student ministry contact information.
The third way to partner with parents is by creating opportunities for them to connect with other parents.
In this regard, I have tried a number of different tactics. I have held “Parent Learning Labs” complete with guest speakers on specific requested topics as well as giveaways to incentivize attendance. Put out the coffee and crumb cake and create a space for parents to share and hear from other parents. I’ve created simple online surveys (link provided just to share an example) to engage parents where they are, asking them to share their most pressing needs as parents so I have a real-time metric of actual needs. I’ve held short, monthly, online gatherings, in order to make it most convenient for busy parents to check in. As I have seen countless times and remind parents continually, much of the weight of parenting teens is lifted in simply knowing they’re not alone and the issues they and their students are facing have been faced before by others who are willing to help and support them.
Through it all, make over-communication your goal and use a variety of methods to stay connected. Email will always (I think) be with us, but your email is almost certain to get lost in the veritable sea of info that is a parent’s inbox. Leverage Facebook by creating a Parents Only page, use Remind to let parents subscribe to receive text reminders from you. Use the Band app to create a parent panel; a select group of parent representatives that you are in regular contact with.
Above all, make sure the parents you serve clearly see that you are with them, listening to them and that you are for them.