Months ago, I drove my niece to school and was very alarmed about her safety (and those of her classmates) at drop-off time. Because of my concerns, I emailed the principal and the PTA President and eagerly awaited a response. Three weeks later (yes, three weeks later), this is the exact response I received from the PTA President:
“I am not sure if you have received a response from the administration. Please feel free to attend our meeting this Thursday at 6 p.m. to discuss your concerns with drop off.”
As a former PTA President, I found this email appalling for so many reasons but I won’t go into all of that here. In a nutshell, I found this to be a missed opportunity for the PTA President to properly invite me into a dialogue about the issue, among other things. As a ministry leader, I found it equally appalling. I would have never addressed a parent’s (or aunt’s!) concerns this way.
Here are a few things I was reminded of as a leader who communicates with parents who have expressed a concern:
Don’t brush it off. When a parent takes the time to express a heartfelt concern in a non-confrontational way, address it. Don’t ignore it or discount it. So maybe the parent expressing the concern isn’t volunteering in the ministry. In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter. Addressing it – or not – speaks volumes to those we serve.
Take a deep breath if the concern is expressed harshly. When a parent feels their child’s safety is at risk, emotions tend to run high. So take a deep breath and hold off on returning that phone call, pressing “send” on that email, or spewing off a defensive response (but don’t wait three weeks). Pray and ask God to give you the right words to say and the right attitude to say them. Remember the words of Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
Respond in a timely fashion. Personally, I felt that the three weeks that passed between my original email and the response was too long. Not hearing back sooner, even acknowledging that the email had been received, was disappointing. As a leader, aim to respond within 24-48 hours.
Listen to them. What is the heart of the matter? What are they really communicating? When listening to a parent, listen without trying to come back on the defense. Sure, we think we’re taking all of the necessary steps to keep our ministry safe but maybe there is something that isn’t on our radar.
Address them by name. If you know me well, you know that nothing gets under my skin more than an email that doesn’t address me by name. I felt a bit disrespected being addressed that way. When addressing a parent’s concern, address them by name and, if meeting in person, look them in the eye when talking to them.
Value their opinion and invite them to be part of the next steps. Believe it or not, not all of the policies and procedures we’ve implemented in our ministry have been ideas that I’ve come up with. It’s been a collaborative effort. If their concern is valid, invite them to be part of the process and work together to come up with a solution. A few questions to get you started would include:
- Is there an existing policy or procedure in place that is not being enforced?
- Is there no existing policy or procedure in place but needs to be?
- Is an existing policy or procedure in place but outdated?
- Is there an existing policy or procedure in place but the parent doesn’t know it exists?
Thank them for coming to you. Yes, it’s true that some parents nit-pick about every little detail and are quick to point out every single flaw in your ministry. But for the most part, a parent that comes to me with a valid, heartfelt concern, speaks volumes to me. I want to help them. Why? Because I value them and want their support. Remember: a healthy ministry is a partnership between church and parents.
By keeping these things in mind, you will create a culture where parents are able to express their concerns, be heard and valued, and be a true partner in the ministry.
Keep the conversation going! What tips do you have in handling parental concerns?