One of the most asked questions in children’s ministry is “How do we connect with parents?”
Here are 12 ways to connect and one way not to connect.
First for the big NO. Sometimes churches get parents involved by allowing them to come in and help out on the spur of the moment. Or sometimes a new parent will offer to help and a leader will say “sure,” without even thinking twice. But this can cause big problems. Parents are people just like anyone else and although, as ministry leaders, we allow parents to observe our programs and to work with their own children – we need to be careful.
*Is that parent someone who knows Christ as Savior? Maybe you don’t think that matters if she’s only helping with the crafts or you think she might come to Christ by listening to verses. But what if a child asks her an important question about the Bible? What if the child asks her how to become a Christian? Would she know?
*What’s her background/lifestyle? I recently heard of a situation where a leader in a ministry situation (who hadn’t been properly checked) let out an angry string of four-letter words when a child stumbled over a verse). Not good. The ministry did tell him he could no longer serve, but how much easier it would’ve been to have checked him out in the first place.
*Has she been through training for the ministry? Has she been through child protection training? We require that of the other leaders: just because someone is a parent, doesn’t mean they don’t need to go through the training.
Now ways to do it.
1. Learn their names. Yes, the lady with the braid is “Emma’s mom,” and that man who always wears the Packers jacket is “Kevin’s dad”, but those people also have their own names.
2. Assign a leader to be a greeter. Assign one leader to stand at the door and greet the parents and kids as they arrive. I asked my most outgoing leader to do this in one of the ministries I directed. Not only did she quickly learn everyone’s names, she connected with them on a personal level. Soon she was supplying coffee and cookies as she encouraged the parents to stand around and chat. She was a great asset to our group.
3. Send cards or emails. Congratulate when a new baby arrives. Send a sympathy note when hearing that grandpa passed away. Acknowledge it when you hear that Macy’s dad was elected to the schoolboard. Christmas, of course, is a great time to send cards to all your families, wishing them “Merry Christmas” and thanking them for the privilege of having their child in your ministry.
4. Watch for shared interests. When you see Mr. Smith wear his Reds jacket, chat with him about how you grew up in Cincinniti and always went to the Reds games. When Sophie tells you her mom likes to quilt, let her mom know there’s a quilting show in a neighboring town. When you learn that the Jones family just got back from their vacation to Oregon and your family is getting ready to leave for Oregon – ask for traveling advice.
5. Along with your own family or another leader, invite a child’s family for a fast food supper an hour or so before your ministry starts. (By putting it an hour or so before starting time, you are setting a time limit. If the parents are nervous, they know they won’t be there forever and if the situation is over-the-top awkward, you, too, will soon be out of it.)
6. Offer to drive the parents to events – AwanaGames, Bible quizzing, a ministry field trip … When there, stick with them, don’t just let them fend for themselves in the middle of a bunch of people they don’t know.
7. Ask parents to help by cutting out Cubbie Bears for the upcoming craft, by bringing lemonade for the ministry picnic, by designing a brochure for an upcoming special events. Make use of their talents.
8. Start a ministry Facebook page, Twitter account or blog. Post consistently and let parents keep up on the latest news and happenings. (But remember not to post kid pictures or names without permission.)
9. Invite parents to visit your club at any time. (Most of them won’t, but knowing that they can will help them know that their children are safe and that you’re approachable.)
10. Honor a parent. (This goes along with #9.) Unless your ministry is huge, divide the number of weeks during the year by the number of parents you have. Then each week invite one or two sets of parents to visit. Let them park in a special “reserved for parent-of-the-week” parking lot, allow their children to introduce them to their friends, give them a small gift. Have chairs set up where they can sit to watch the action! Make them feel special.
11. Listen to them. Do they have a concern, a question, an idea? Often concerns are misunderstandings, so hear them out and then explain what happened (or promise to check on what really happened). Be willing to answer their questions. If you don’t have time right then (while dozens of kids are running around), get their phone number or email address and call them back as soon as possible.
12. And the most important of all – Pray for them. Your ministry is not just to children, it’s also to their parents. Pray that the Lord will give you the wisdom to connect with the parents of the children in your ministry.
And then go do it!