This is the second article in a series about being more professional in the context of youth ministry. The article series was inspired by a youth worker who voiced his concern at a recent conference about the lack of respect youth workers receive as a profession. On one hand, it seems at times that youthworkers are viewed as glorified babysitters or on the other hand, the baby pastor who get to practice with the teenagers until they become “real” pastors.
If we want to raise the bar for how youthworkers are perceived, we may need to raise the level of professionalism that people see when they watch us at work.
The goal of this series is to offer easy tips that won’t hamper your personal style too much, but will make things run more smoothly in your ministry. My last article covered tips for looking more professional, this article will cover 7 quick tips to communicate like a professional.
Why does communication matter so much? You may be the world’s best at relating to young people, but if you can’t master communicating with parents and other adults, 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.
A basic principle of youth ministry you might have overlooked is – 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 professional communication.
7 Quick Tips to Communicate Like a Youth Ministry Professional:
1. Communicate through a variety of channels. There are several ways you can try to communicate to people – in person, in a large group, before the congregation, letters, emails, newsletters, text messages, emails, websites, Facebook pages. To ensure that you are reaching your audience, use a mix of channels to get your message across. As a rule of thumb, the more you hope for people’s participation, the more ways you need to communicate. If you want parents to take an action (fill out this form, RSVP, make deposits and so on), it is in your best interest to communicate directly to the parents instead of relying on students to pass the announcement on to their parents.
Be multisensory. According to studies, people remember on average 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they hear and see and 70% of what they say. Given that, the more senses you can engage with your communication, the better chance you have of your message being remembered. When you have an announcement, engage the senses by showing it on a screen, saying it, having it written on a handout, texting, emailing and having people repeat it back to you.
Be sure to communicate clearly to your volunteers and student leaders first. The volunteers in your youth ministry act as unofficial authority figures when it comes to communication. In other words, if the volunteer teacher says an event is at a certain time or place, their announcement carries authority. Be sure volunteers have the right information.
2. Send friendly reminders. I admit as a parent of three kids, I miss some of my children’s activities and deadlines. Even if I received a detailed email outlining all of the month’s upcoming events, I still need a quick reminder email of when, what to bring/wear at the last minute. Assume parents and youth have other people trying to communicate to them even more than you and give them grace when they forget something. Don’t ever fear overcommunicating. As a general guide – send a big picture overview calendar of major events once a quarter or monthly. Have weekly updates in the church or youth ministry newsletters and emails. On the day before, send a reminder text and/or email. In the meantime, keep the websites and social media pages all on the same page.
3. Make your main points a priority. When speaking or writing, it is helpful if you outline your main points ahead of time. Otherwise you risk garbling up the message and being less effective. As a rule of thumb, have 3 or less main points in your message. Write your main points down so if you wander off topic, you can return to the main points. For people to remember what you say, first tell them what you are going to say, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them.
4. 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. Along those same lines, Publicize youth events weeks in advance. Clearly communicate the next youth ministry meeting time, date and place and give enough notice for people to plan accordingly.
5. 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. Use a font that is clear and easy to read. 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.
Proofreading matters. Set a high standard for spelling and grammar on all handouts and communication pieces that represent your ministry. Few things undermine your perceived professionalism faster than careless spelling errors. If this isn’t your strong suit, find a volunteer to proof everything for you.
6. When running meetings, use visual aids. 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 understands 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.
7. Be open for discussion. There are a lot of ways you can communicate being open to discussion – from how you dress, how you set up your office (more on this in a future article) and even your body language. Tell people you are here to listen to their concerns, and back that up by standing with “open” body language – arms to your side instead of crossed in front of you, for example – and making eye contact. When talking in person, eliminate distractions when it comes to time for discussion by putting away your cellphone, shutting down your computer, focusing on the talker. If you have set office hours, post these on your website, newsletter, etc. and be available for questions/concerns.
The advice here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communicating like a professional. It’s important to remember that people cannot read your mind and they might forget what you tell them. If you can get a handle on effectively communicating, you can reduce misunderstanding and help things run more smoothly.
What communication channels do you use more often when reaching parents? When reaching youth?
What challenges have you faced in communication?
What advice would you add to this list?