Chances are if you’re in youth ministry, you are in it because you feel called and love working with youth, you relate well to young people. What you may or may not have noticed is that those same youth are often dropped off by parents/guardians/grandparents* at the beginning of your time together. Those adults are, in fact, one of your most important constituencies…maybe even more important to win over than your senior pastor. Why does your ministry with parents matter? Whether you realized it at the start or not, those same parent/guardians are the number one influencers in the youths’ faith lives. They also heavily influence whether or not their teenage children can participate in your ministry. You may be the world’s best at relating to young people, but if you can’t master communicating with parents you’re headed for trouble.
If you don’t communicate well with parents, you risk their thinking of you as unprofessional, unreliable or worse. Unhappy parents can lead to grumbling and complaints about your ministry. But if you can successfully manage your relationships with parents, they can become your biggest fans and supporters. One way you can be successful at winning parents over is by having regularly scheduled, well-run parent meetings.
And if you’re asking yourself, “what’s a parent meeting?” then no one has taught you a basic principle of youth ministry – You are in ministry to parents as much as you are in ministry to youth. Being a parent of an adolescent is a daunting challenge, as the youth worker you have a unique opportunity to come alongside parents and make raising Christian teens a little less scary. Let’s look at ways you can get parents on your side through well-run parent meetings.
Here are 10 Must-Have Ingredients in Every Successful Parent Meeting:
1. Start and end on time. This really should be a no-brainer, right? It matters because how you start a meeting sets the tone for the meeting. If you start your meetings 10 minutes late, you unintentionally communicate that it’s okay to not show up on time to things you plan. When it’s time for the parent meeting to begin, let parents know you have a lot to cover and how long you realistically expect the meeting to last. Starting or ending a meeting late communicates that you don’t respect people’s time. How long should a parent meeting last? Of course this depends on the content you have to cover, and while an hour is a good rule of thumb, what matters even more is that you spend enough time to communicate well without belaboring the points.
2. Create a friendly atmosphere. Chances are, not every parent knows every other parent’s name or they might not even know you. Have name tags for everyone – few things communicate care better than actually calling people by name. Even if it’s a small group, is there anything more embarrassing than blanking out on someone’s name you’ve known for a while? Introduce people, introduce yourself, thank people for being there. If the gathering is under about 20 people, take the time to have each person introduce themselves and tell which kids are theirs. During your meeting, engage your audience by calling on specific people. Smile. Warm up your crowd. Create an air of friendliness but still remember you’re together for a purpose – keep the introduction time brief.
3. Have an agenda (and not the hidden kind). Want to demonstrate that you are organized and have planned what you are going to say? Have a printed meeting agenda to follow. Circulate it beforehand so parents know what to expect. What is the purpose of this particular parent meeting? Are you addressing certain problems, seeking volunteer support, coaching parents, going over the details of upcoming events? What will you cover, what’s the goal of the meeting? Don’t meet just to have a meeting.
4. Have very specific action items lined out clearly. What is it that you want parents to do as a result of this meeting? Do they need to sign forms for a retreat by a certain date? Are some fundraising events mandatory for the youth to attend in order to participate in other activities? Are parents expected to volunteer once a quarter at snack supper? Whatever it is that you really want parents to do, list the “to do’s” as clearly as possible. Don’t make people guess what you’re asking of them – be clear.
5. Date everything. Double check any handout you make to ensure it answers the basic questions of what, when, where, who, why, how much. Some parents are calendar people and planners, help them out by having dates communicated as clearly and often as possible. If you’re not doing so already, learn to use a Google calendar for your ministry events and share it with parents.
6. Use consistent formatting in your handouts. I admit, there was a time in my life when I thought PrintShop was the coolest thing ever (yep, I just dated myself didn’t I?) It’s easy to get caught up in the default templates available in desktop publishing. You don’t have to spend hours sticking in multiple clip arts and fonts, just make sure you communicate the main information people really need. Keep your handouts simple and clear across the board. Not everyone is particular about this one, but if you’re communicating to adults, use a “grown up” font on your handouts (please just don’t use Comic Sans). Not only is consistent formatting important, but please make sure you are consistently communicating the correct information through all communication channels you use – in other words, be sure the church newsletter, youth ministry newsletter, website, texts, Facebook page and meeting hand outs all have the correct information.
7. Make your meetings easy to follow and pay attention to your audience. Communication studies indicate that most of our communication is made through our body language and visual aids. How well do you do during your meetings of managing the visual? Along with the printed agenda in the hands of your participants, have a slide show (Keynote, PowerPoint) with main points, dates, related photos to guide your meeting. Pay attention to whether or not your audience is understanding what you are saying. Ask them from time to time if they have any questions. It doesn’t matter how great the information you have to share is if people get stuck at a point when they’re confused by you.
8. Tell stories to a point. Participating in youth ministry events should be life-changing. Don’t get so caught up in talking about the logistics and huge amount of upcoming youth events that you neglect stories about the heart of your ministry. In the midst of talking about the upcoming youth events, share a story of the impact youth ministry has had on changing a person’s heart. Parents yearn for their children to know Christ, share a story about how youth ministry can help make that a reality. Even better, have a respected parent in the group share a story.
9. Publicize your meeting weeks in advance. Clearly communicate the next meeting time, date and place. How often you should have a parent meeting depends on your situation – at least once a year, but quarterly works too if you have a reason to meet. Just be sure to give your parents a few weeks notice so they can plan to attend your meeting. (A cool ministry idea is to have a “parents encouraging parents” meeting – have “experienced” parents of teens lead a small group discussion or Bible study once a month with other parents. As the youth worker, you stop in to these meetings briefly to build relationships and communicate current events.)
10. Open and close in prayer. I am so guilty of getting caught up in making sure that all of the details of a meeting are covered, that I sometimes neglect the most important ministry we can offer – prayer. Pray at the beginning and end of the meeting. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide the meeting, pray for the ministry, your leadership, the parents and the youth. If you can allow the time, have parents circle up, share their joys and concerns and pray together to close your meeting. Remember, you are in the ministry with parents just as much as you are with youth.
And there you have it! The top 10 ingredients for a successful parent meeting – use and mix them well and you’ll create a supportive parent network.
*Note: I recognize that families and family dynamics come in a wide variety of formats. For simplicity, I’m using the term “parent meeting” to include whomever the adults are that matter in the lives of your youth group – parents, step-parents, legal guardians, grandparents, etc.
Would love to hear from you:
What other successful ingredients to parent meetings would you recommend?
How often do you meet with the parents of your youth? What’s working? What is not?
Are there specific ministry tools you’ve used that have made parent meetings easier?