I started youth ministry back when mailing flyers with clip art out of a book was the best and most effective way to communicate with parents. As I grew in skills I began to make calendars on Microsoft Publisher and would occasionally send out letters to parents to promote special events like a trip to Mexico or a parent meeting.
Because this was the time that formed my communication world view, I came late to embracing all the technology available to me to communicate to parents and to students. This is my excuse. What is yours?
I am shocked at how many of my youth worker friends do not have regular communication with parents. In an age of technology, email, databases, etc, communicating regularly with parents is the number one way to score big points for you and your ministry.
Perception is Reality
The biggest gripe I hear from parents is that they don’t know what is going on. As a youth worker who is a great planner, this excuse chafed on me big time. All the information for events would be in the bulletin, on the quarterly calendar, on the website, and sent home on flyers. But with all of these outlets, parents still managed to miss what was going on in our ministry and the details about events. And the biggest bummer is that perception is reality. So if it was perceived that the information was unclear, then it was.
How parents perceive your organizational and communication skills is the true test of how you are doing in these two categories. We cannot be scared of this feedback. Instead, we must embrace it and address it. Here is how my team did it.
Email Parents Once A Week
Like I said at the start, this is easy. It is not rocket science If you already do this, then good job, quit reading, and check out one of my fellow Orange bloggers. If you aren’t, SHAME ON YOU!! This is a must, and a huge win for you and your ministry.
In our weekly emails we :
· Get to share the vision and purpose of our group.
· Encourage parents to love their kids.
· Encourage parents to pray for me and for our ministry.
· Empower parents to take away excuses for their kids to miss youth group or events.
· Share resources that they may find helpful.
· Share stories of how God is at work in our ministry.
· Communicate upcoming lessons for both follow-up and open dialogue in case it gets a little spicy.
· Highlight upcoming events and communicate details.
· Remind parents of RSVP dates and links so they can sign up right there on the spot.
· Provide an easy way for parents to get a hold of me, because my email is always in their inbox somewhere.
· Give the impression that I am easily accessible.
· Become a weekly reminder that their church has a youth pastor and a youth program that is worthy of their consideration.
Logistically, this can be a challenge. This is how we did it:
We spent a lot of hours contacting every parent in our youth ministry’s database and added a field for parents’ email. This is a long and awful task. But once this is done, the maintenance is super easy.
Now, whenever a new person comes to youth group we collect their contact information. But we added a step where we mail home a letter to their parents explaining what their kid showed up at, explaining our youth ministry, who I am, and how to contact me. We also invite the parents to share their contact information with us so they can stay in the loop with our weekly emails.
We have been going at this strong for several years now and the response has been amazing. I have not heard one complaint about communication or about the lack of information regarding an event. Parents can simply look in their inbox to find everything they need to know. The only down side is that all of our parents know I am a horrible speller and have no sense of grammar. (Just like my fellow blog readers.) And like I said before, if you already send out these emails, you should have stopped reading 300 words ago.
The Orange philosophy has solidified my conviction that parents must be partners in student ministry. I have spent many years being scared and intimidated by parents. Truthfully, I still am. But by keeping them in the loop, respecting their rightful place in the lives of their own kids, and inviting a partnership with them has opened up conversation, deepened trust, and made for some of the most fruitful seasons of ministry ever.
If you are unfamiliar with Orange, I would encourage you to check it out. They are an amazing resource for youth workers and for families. I can not wait to get out to Atlanta for the annual convention. I hope you consider coming along. Sign up this week and save some money. No matter if you are an Orange Kool-Aid drinker like me or not, communicating with parents is a no-brainer and a must.
This is how a technological newbie does his communication. How do you do it? What templates, software or programs do you use?