Partnering with parents. I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, this isn’t a new idea for you. If it happens to be, I’m so glad you’re here. I want to encourage you to read this before you come back and finish this blog. Even though it’s not a new idea for me as a 37 year old in 2021, it sure was a pretty new idea to me as a 21-year-old when I started in full time ministry in 2005. In fact, it really wasn’t until 2009 when I read Think Orange that I began to seriously think about it.
I’ve always thought of a bridge when it came to the idea of partnering with parents. When I was first sparked to take it seriously, I thought the idea was that we (the church) would build a bridge halfway to parents while parents build a bridge halfway to us. So, I rolled up my sleeves & got to work building our section of the bridge. But something happened when we finished our half. I noticed the parents never started their half.
I (metaphorically) shouted & yelled at the parents about why they should build their half of the bridge, but not much happened. That’s not totally true, we had a few parents who cared. But (for the sake of this analogy), they were like parents with a boat. They didn’t really even need the bridge. So, I did what any good pastor would do. I did my best to build the bridge all the way to parents on my own. And wouldn’t you know, when we finished that bridge, it was flooded by grateful parents.
Don’t get me wrong, we learned a lot & did see some results by building that bridge to parents. But it just didn’t have the effect that I was hoping for. A few years later, I learned something really important: I built the wrong bridge.
Where Does Your Bridge Lead?
My focus was on building a bridge between the parent & the church. More specifically, my focus was on building a bridge between the parent & the youth ministry. Again, this wasn’t ALL bad, but it sure wasn’t ALL good. It took a few years but eventually hit me right between the eyes.
The bridge to best partner with parents isn’t between the youth ministry & the parent. It’s between the parent & the small group leader of their son/daughter.
WHY? Well, a lot of that goes back to our Lead Small strategy. As a ministry leader, you can’t really invest in more than 5-10 at a time very well. So, duplicating yourself, recruiting & developing small group leaders who invest weekly into the lives of students allows for more students to have more adults investing in their lives. All of those students have at least 1 parent, so if you can’t be relationally connected to all of the students, you can’t be connected to all of their parents either.
You can inform them. And you can support them. You can resource them. And you can cast vision to them. But you cannot be relationally connected with all of them. Plus, you’re likely not the one who is as connected to their son or daughter, so connecting with you over their kids’ SGL isn’t even as strategic.
HELPING SGLs PARTNER WITH PARENTS
HOW? So, let’s pretend you agree with me. How do we do this? Our small group leaders already give so much time to invest in their students, now we’re gonna ask them to care about their parents too?
I get it. Here are a couple of ways you can effectively partner with parents and help build a bridge between them and small group leaders.
PRIORITIZE FACE TO FACE TIME
Next time you have a parent meeting, ask yourself what the most important use of your time is that cannot be replicated any other way. After a LOT of bad parent meetings, I eventually realized it was face-to-face time between parents & their kids’ small group leaders. So, we made some changes to the 3 parent meetings we had each year. We developed agendas for our SGL to lead conversations with their groups’ parents to help build connections between the parents & the small group leader. Here’s a deep dive into that if you’re interested.
Sure, there are some things that need to be communicated by ‘the ministry’ to best partner with parents. If you have a big retreat coming up, parents ought to be getting an email with info & details from you or a ministry branded email address. But…which is more likely to get a student to think about attending the retreat…getting an invite from the church or getting an invite from their group’s leader?
Well, that’s sort of a trick question. They’re more likely to attend if their friends are also going but a close 2nd place is an invite from their Small Group Leader, not the church (ie, you).
We also noticed this to be true with our parent meetings that I mentioned earlier. Of course, we (the ministry) would send out ‘save the dates’ to parents. But it was the personal invites from the Small Group Leaders to these gatherings that always had more traction.
As a parent myself, I find myself actually reading way more emails my kids’ teachers send vs emails from the school system. I know it’s not a direct correlation, but the closer my kids are connected relationally, the higher the likelihood that I’m reading it.
Obviously, you don’t want to overwhelm your leaders, so don’t ask them to communicate EVERYTHING. You’ll water down their voice if they do. But simply begin to consider the events or situations that you need to offer some templates & guidance to your leaders as they reach out to parents.
WHERE TO START
So, if you’re thinking about focusing on this bridge & need a little help I have some good news for you. The team over at Orange Leaders created this great resource that gives 7 easy ways for small group leaders to start connecting with parents. It’s some low-hanging fruit to start moving forward with this strategy.
PS. if you have an Orange curriculum license, you have an Orange Specialist who would LOVE to process this strategy with you 🙂 If you’re not sure who your OS is, head to findmyos.com.