When our church was started as a church plant almost 15 years ago we believed the foundation of our children and student ministries needed to be a partnering with parents. We really believed, and still believe, that parents are the primary spiritual leaders for their children regardless of where parents are on their own journey. We also believe the church's job is to come alongside parents and help them as much as possible.
How do you partner with parents?
Recognizing that parents have the primary influence and the most time with their kids, we want to make sure we're helping them get the most out of their time. While churches have always wanted to invest in kids, students, and parents, this philosophy of ministry is still somewhat new and therefore none of us have it all figured out. We're all experimenting and trying different things. When I talk with other ministry leaders one of the top questions they have (after how to get more volunteers) is how to partner well with parents. How do you do it?
Our 5-Part Strategy for Partnering With Parents
In looking at all we do for parents as well as all the things we have tried in the past, we noticed they all fit into one of 5 categories. Knowing that is helpful because we can talk about it as a specific strategy and evaluate how we're doing in each of the areas regularly. We have also had conversations about how much to invest in each area and where we see the greatest return on our investment. Our 5-part strategy is:
One way we partner with parents is through communication. This is important because communication communicates that we care (click here to see what I mean). It is also important because if we want to be on the same page as parents, and if we want them to be informed about what we're teaching their children, we must communicate well. In our current context, we must communicate through a variety of channels. At CCC we communicate with parents weekly through print pieces, email, social media, text, the program/bulletin on Sundays, and video.
Another way we partner with parents is through resources. We have used Orange curriculum from the very beginning, so we pass on the great resources they create for parents. That includes print pieces on Sunday that outline what their child learned, the Parent Cue Blog, App, and Podcast, books, and the Studio252.tv website for elementary kids.
Throughout the year we do events designed to partner with parents. We do transition and milestone events, such as Kindergarten Confidential for incoming kindergartners and the Launch Party for incoming 6th graders. We do Baby Dedication, a Dive In class for kids interested in baptism, and Coffee Talks for parents of students.
In addition to those regular events we do each year, we do 2-3 extra events designed to partner with parents as well. Events such as Father-Daughter Date Night, Great Family Experience, and more. We continue to try different things to help parents become the best they can be and use their time well.
I believe the best partnership we have with parents is their child's…
Small Group Leader
Many of you reading this already knew I was going to write that and you understand why. The 3 other parts of the strategy (Communication, Resources & Events) are important, but a great small group leader outweighs them all. The only one that comes close is probably resources, but since the resources we provide to parents are not created by us anyway (Thanks Orange), the small group leader is far and away the best partnership we can have with parents.
8 Reasons Why
Here are 8 reasons why I believe small group leaders (SGLs) are the best partnership we have with parents. Keep in mind, this assumes we have great small group leaders. If a small group leader is terrible at connecting with kids, shows up only half the time, or doesn't understand the importance of connecting with parents, this isn't true.
- Small Group Leaders are in the lives of kids and students the most and every parent needs other adults as a positive influence in their kid's lives. That alone may serve the parent than anything else.
- We go to great lengths to communicate with parents, but if a parent and small group leader talk regularly, and the small group leader knows what to communicate (because we communicate it to them), the parent would have everything they need to know.
- Parents need champions in their corner who will encourage them. SGLs provide that. The other things can't.
- Kids and Students don't care at all about the other 3 things, but an SGL could very well be the most important person in their life representing the church.
- Most of us form our view of who God is initially from what his followers are like, and that can primarily be demonstrated by their SGL.
- A small group leader who has an existing relationship with parents can challenge parents when they see something unhealthy. That takes a significant relationship formed over time. In fact, one of our SGLs did that just this week.
- The events we do give parents an example of how they can invest in their children and they give us a platform to communicate with them. An equipped small group leader could do both in a more focused manner.
- A small group leader who has a relationship with parents is more likely to hear feedback from the parent and know what they really need. While a parent could use other avenues to communicate that with us, my experience is it rarely happens.
As I finish typing this I'm reminded of the great content in the book When Relationships Matter about small group leaders and parents partnering together. I just cracked open my book (meaning I opened my Kindle app) and re-read some of it. There's tons of great content there that I recommend you check out if you haven't yet.
A Simple Way to Connect Small Group Leaders & Parents
In our student ministry, we kick off each school year with a Launch Party where parents and students are invited to attend. Parents get to meet and interact with their student's small group leaders. The Launch Party and Small Group Leader + Parent Breakfasts are great, but we were also looking for another option we could pull off using less money and less time.
Our Student Pastor had the great idea of hosting a Coffee Talk. The premise is simple. Our student ministry environments take place on Sunday evenings from 5:30-7:30pm. Middle school and high school are separate, but take place at the same time. Coffee Talk takes place before, at 5pm, and runs a little bit into the normal programming (ending at 5:45 pm). Our goal is to do them 3-4 times each school year. The key is we're only asking parents to come out a little earlier than normal, and a time when they would already be out.
We set up the environment with tables and assign our small group leaders to specific tables or sections. Coffee and other beverages are available and parents and small group leaders connect during the first half of Coffee Talk. During the second half we gather everyone together and share some quick news and updates. Then, we provide parents with some type of resource that meets a need they have as parents of teens. It could be a sample cell phone contract, or, like the first one we held, we may cast a vision for the importance of students serving in ministry.
It's been a successful initiative that's fairly easy to pull off. I'm grateful our Student Pastor values connecting with parents and thinks outside the box to come up with new ways to do that.