If you ask my leaders what I talk about most during our Leadership Gatherings, they should say: Contact Work and Parent Partnerships.
Youth ministry is not rocket science. Rather, it compares better to baking a cake from scratch. The cake itself only requires a few ingredients, but the slightest distortion of those ingredients will always result in a pile of mucked up dough and culinary nastiness! Trust me, I know!
Youth ministry requires only a few key ingredients to succeed, and truly, depending on the scale and mixture of those components, either beautiful dessert is made or several hours of clean up!
No one would disagree that Parent Partnerships is one of those key components to the health and faithfulness of a youth ministry. Yet, to what extent ought a youth ministry leader pursue these partnerships? How much should one invest into a parent, especially given that many youth ministry leaders are in their 20's and without kids? And what does a true partnership even look like? If you know the parent's first name, does that qualify as a partnership?
Regardless of your fear or presuppositions, Family-based Youth Ministry (thank you Mark DeVries) is always the best option! You must pursue this for the health of your ministry.
Thus, I want to offer 3 mistakes to AVOID when beginning this process:
Mistake #1. You are not the Parent, so don't act like one. You are a Pastor, a leader, a caring adult volunteer, or even simply a caring adult who loves teenagers. You are not the Parent. Do not subvert the authority of the parent (unless in the rare case of an abusive or harmful situation). Honor the parent, and recognize that for better or for worse, all of the parents in your community love their children more than you ever could. Ever! You must set aside your own ego and personal gratification of a student's reliance upon you for the sake of fostering the health and well-being of a family.
Leverage your God-given role in the life of your students in such a way that directs them toward a healthy relationship with their parents.
Mistake #2. Parents do not have disposable time, so use it wisely. Consider this in all that you do, especially with communication. Learn from your parents the most effective and strategic tool for communicating. When writing an email, place in the subject heading 3-4 key words that describe your letter. Use bullet points and bold face type. Ask direct questions that get to the heart of your needs. Don;t beat around the bush. Be direct. Effective communication is the first step towards building a bridge to partnership. When done wisely, it will convey to the parents your credibility and thoughtful consideration.
Leverage strategic communication and thoughtful consideration of the needs of the parent in order to build the relational capital necessary for you to complete your ministry goals.
Mistake #3. Not every Parent is a Christian, so don't make assumptions. Not every parent believes in Jesus, nor trusts the foundations of the church. Quite honestly, some may even be taking a huge risk in allowing their child to participate in your ministry. Therefore, equal care must be taken in the faith formation of not only the student, but the parent, as well. Use basic terms that are understood by people both inside and outside of the church. Share your philosophy of ministry and core values in such a way that upholds the dignity of the parent, not your seminary education. Invite the parent to engage with you, and take into account their keen eye. You don't have all of the answers, and a fresh perspective, even if it seems contrary to your ministry, is always worth a second thought.
Leverage the initial trust that is given to you by a non-Christian parent with an even greater response of charity and goodwill, even if that amounts to additional work.
Building parent partnerships requires a long-term outlook of ministry. Play the long ball. Most parents, especially in a post-Christendom context do not easily place their trust in the church, even the Christian parents. Take the time to earn it. Invest heavily in these relationships, and reciprocate in a way that cherishes and upholds them. In doing so, you will experience ministry dividends beyond your wildest imagination!
QUESTION: What are one or two creative strategies that you have used to build a long-term sustainable bridge to parent partnerships.