During my first few years of ministry, parents scared me. I thought that they all hated me, so I avoided conflict at all cost.
Over the years, I have found that the success of ministry is built on how I equip and communicate with parents.
Parents can bring great joy and great stress for student ministry. These are just a few things I’ve learned along the way. This is meant to start discussion not give you a fool-proof parent ministry plan.
1. Be humble.
You may be an expert on kids and teenagers, you may have all of the advice in the world, and you may have your own kids or teenagers. Parents couldn’t care less. They care most about their own kid(s). Be humble in your approach no matter what. Communicate in a way that empowers parents to be the chief discipler, not you. Humility goes a long way in building relationships with parents, even if you are right and they are wrong, so stay humble.
2. Don’t let them walk all over you.
Do not misinterpret humility with being a pushover. There are times when you need to stand firm in your decisions and stand firm in your calling. If parents are used to getting their way, this will frustrate them and they may come at you even harder. In their criticism, stay humble in how you receive it, take what is true and be better because of it. Parents today are lawnmowers, cutting down everything in front of their kids. It’s ok to stand firm and not let them dictate how you do ministry, but do this with grace. When lawnmower parents come at you, this is a great time to bring in other voices (pastor, supervisor, elders, etc.) to ask for advice. Ask in a way that communicates you are in control of the situation, but you would like someone else to review what’s going on. This also lets your supervisor or pastor know that they may be getting a phone call from this parent and you would hope they have your back.
3. Do what you say you’re going to do.
If you plan something, do it. If you say you will be finished at 7pm, finish at 7pm. If you tell parents that that kids will be doing something at camp, make sure it happens. If you say it’s going to cost $100 for the retreat, it needs to cost $100. This takes diligence in planning on your part. Parents want to know they can trust you with their kids. They also want to know details. It may not seem like a big deal when you tell parents that students will be having Chick-Fil-A but instead you got pizza. These things matter. They may seem petty on the fly, but they add up. Do what you say you’re going to do.
4. Give them opportunity to have a voice.
One of the best things you could do every year is give a year in review survey to parents. Ask simple questions like, “How would you rate the cost of camp? Cheap/Affordable/Too Expensive”. I also ask questions like, “What topics or discussions would you like for us to cover next year?” It’s a 10-15 question survey and gives us great insight for evaluating last year and helping plan next year. NOTE: Do not let parents be anonymous with their voice. Parents ARE talking about you and your ministry, so give them a voice to talk with you.
5. Never hesitate to give encouragement.
That time you saw a parent in the hallway and you thought, “I should tell them that their daughter read scripture in small group and was awesome,” but you got scared and didn’t. STOP HESITATING! Just go for it, even if it’s awkward and they look at you like your crazy. What are they going to say? “How dare you complement my child”? NOOO! This does one of two things. First, it lets parents know that YOU know their kid. Second, it sets up parents for great conversation at home. They may say to their kid, “The youth pastor told me what you did today.” Instead of it being that time they punched a hole in the door, it’s something great and a win for both you and the parents. Be bold with them and do not hesitate to give encouragement.