If you are a next-gen ministry leader, chances are you have heard the phrase “partner with parents.” And it probably sounds like a good idea. After all, parents have influence with their kids and they often make great volunteers.
So. . .
We send emails.
We have parent meetings
We send more emails.
We call/text/DM parents nearly every day.
And while all of the communication is good, it can also feel overwhelming—like maybe we need more of a strategy or a plan for how we do things and how we keep parents engaged.
Maybe that’s why so many seasoned ministry leaders create a parent engagement strategy. And, whether you’re new to this concept or rethinking it for your ministry context, we have some questions we think might be helpful you think about parents in your ministry context.
Why should we engage parents?
Sure, we all want parents to be on time for pick-up, read our emails, or come to our events, but we also know their influence is bigger than that. In fact, nobody has more influence over a kid or a teenager than their parent.
After all, kids will spend less than 40 hours in our ministries every year (if they show up every single week), but they will spend over 3,000 with their parents. So it just makes sense that if we want to influence the faith of the next generation, we need to partner with the people who have the most influence in their lives: their parents. This idea is the basis of the Orange philosophy. We believe two combined influences can make a greater impact than just two separate influences. When you combine the light of the church (yellow) plus the heart of the home (red) you get a stronger, more vibrant impact in the life of a kid or teenager (orange).
Who are the parents?
The answer to that may seem obvious, but how we answer that question will actually determine whether or not our strategy to engage parents is effective. At Orange, we define the term “parent” as any adult who is consistently tasked with the responsibility of raising a young person.
So, when we talk about “parents” we are talking about parents and caregivers.
Every parent and caregiver.
Every single parent.
Every gay parent.
Every divorced parent.
Every foster parent.
Every adoptive parent.
Every parent or caregiver.
This is a really important idea because, as ministry leaders, we have a tendency to disqualify and judge parents instead of engaging them. Even as you read that list, you may have been thinking, “What about the _______ parent?”
But, instead of asking that question, we think there is one idea that has the power to change how we engage parents:
Every parent wants to be a better parent.
When we truly believe that and stop disqualifying parents, it will change the way we engage parents because they will know we believe in them.
What is the win for engaging parents?
Before you can create a strategy or plan to engage parents, you first need to define the win. After all, how will you know if your strategy is working if you don’t know what to measure?
Based on the fact that kids will spend 3,000 hours with their parents every year versus 40 hours in our program, we think what happens at home is more important than what happens at church. So, it just makes sense that the win would be to help parents win at home.
What does that look like?
Years ago, we did a national ministry survey and asked ministry leaders what it looks like to help parents win at home. All of the answers fell into two big categories:
More intentional at home
More connected to community (specifically, a faith community)
So what if we helped parents do those two things? What if we help parents win by helping them be more intentional at home and more connected to a faith community?
Engage Every Parent Everywhere
Let’s be honest. Engaging parents looks different after 2020 than it did before. For many of our churches, attendance is still not where it was before the pandemic. If we were extra honest, even before the pandemic, many families were not coming to our churches.
That’s why we think our strategy to engage parents has to include both parents who spend their Sundays at church and parents who spend their Sundays at home (or anywhere else).
This requires us to leverage digital platforms to reach parents where they are instead of only reaching parents who attend our programs and events. When we serve not just parents who come to our programming but every parent, we have the opportunity to change how a generation sees the church because of how well we love their parents.
How Do We Engage Parents?
At this point, you may have a few questions.
“How do we actually do this?”
“How do we innovate our existing strategies to reach more parents?”
“Where do I start?”
Just like every church is different, every strategy to engage parents will look a little different. However, we think there are a few good places to start, and we have resources to help.
Listen to Parents
Parents are the experts on their experiences–that includes what they need to win. So, before we create a strategy or give out resources, we need to listen to what they actually want and need.
That’s why Orange and Parent Cue partnered with Arbor Research to conduct a series of studies to better understand the realities of parents and their relationships with faith communities. We sought out to learn what parents want, what parents fear, how parents feel, and where parents go for help and share those insights with ministry leaders in our book, What Most Parents Aren’t Telling You.
We hope the research we share in the book can help you better understand parents, but if you really want to understand parents in your community, you need to listen to them. You can do this by creating focus groups, doing parent surveys, and creating systems for feedback. Just remember that it’s easy to listen to the parents who are engaged and are the loudest, but it may take a little extra effort if you want to truly learn from every parent.
Empower Leaders to Engage Parents
As a ministry leader, your to-do list is a mile long, and while engaging parents should be a top priority on that list, you shouldn’t try to engage parents alone. Instead, empower other parents and leaders to engage parents.
That can include hiring someone or recruiting a volunteer to lead your parent engagement strategy. You can also create a parent engagement team. Either way, one of the best things you can do is train small group leaders to engage parents.
Most parents aren’t looking for a training seminar or a huge resource book. That’s daunting. Often, what parents need are small cues that will move them to connect relationally with their kid or with their teenager this week so that they can create a relational rhythm in their homes.
That’s why we created the Parent Cue App. It comes pre-loaded with cues every week for kids from birth through 18, just to help parents create that relational rhythm so that they can speak encouraging words to their kid every morning, so that they can rediscover their kid as they travel along the road together, to elevate their conversations at mealtime, and to connect with the heart. Plus, your church can customize the app, so you can leverage it to communicate with parents about what is happening in your ministry and provide discipleship content so parents can disciple their kids even if they spend Sundays at home. We think the Parent Cue App has the potential to help you not just cue parents but actually change the way you partner with every parent in your community.
Align the Church and the Home
Finally, one of the best ways you can help parents be more intentional at home is by helping them have faith conversations with their kids. That’s why Orange Curriculum provides resources to help you empower parents to have conversations with their kids and teenagers about what they are learning at church. Because every phase is different, each life-stage curriculum offers different resources to best serve the needs of parents.
In every curriculum, we provide parent emails and Parent Cues to help you (and your volunteers) keep parents up-to-day on what their kids are learning. Parent Cues align with the monthly theme or series so parents know what you are teaching, and they provide ideas to help them engage with their kids. In First Look Preschool Ministry Curriculum and 252 Kids and Preteen Curriculum, we also provide social media plans you can use to engage parents on your ministry’s social media channels. In XP3 Middle School and XP3 High School, we provide additional resources for many series and parent preview videos on sensitive topics to help you build trust with parents.
Additionally, if you follow the recommended scope and cycle (or teaching calendar) for each curriculum, the Parent Cue App syncs automatically with what you are teaching so parents can access all of these resources in one easy place.
We want to make it as easy as possible for you to engage every parent and align what happens at church and what happens at home so you can make a bigger impact in the life of the kids and teenagers in your community.