10 Easy Ways to Partner with Families in Your Ministry

10 Easy Ways to Partner with Families in your Ministry

“Partner with parents” is a phrase used quite a bit in the kidmin, student ministry and family ministry world. There are different ways to define what ‘partnering’ with parents means, but I define it simply as being a parent’s biggest cheerleader. I want to cheer them on as they lead their families.  I want to cheer them on as they help their children know, love and follow Jesus.  I want to cheer them on as they help their family navigate the culture and world we live in.

While a daunting task and key responsibility for ministry leaders, cheerleading for families doesn’t always have to be over-thought. Yes, there should be strategies in place to help move families from here to there, but there are easy ways to make this happen. Here are 10 to help you get started:

  1. Ask their opinion. Looking for ideas that a certain age group of kids might like? Looking for the latest trends in games, apps, television shows, etc.? Want to make tweaks or changes in your ministry? Keep your finger on the pulse of what kids like and what kids are talking about by going to kid experts – their PARENTS! I occasionally email parents in my ministry to get feedback and ideas on a variety of things. Doing this shows (1) I don’t have all the answers (which I don’t) and (2) I value them and their opinion. I have found parents to be very receptive to this!
  2. Provide a playlist of songs being played in your ministry. Give parents a glimpse of good, quality music by sharing your ministry’s playlist. You can share this through music streaming services such as iTunes or Spotify. This allows children to hear the music you play in church at home and on the go!
  3. Keep your website updated. Our families are busy. They don’t want to search for information on what’s going on in your ministry and when. Do them a favor and help them out by keeping your website updated. Include dates, times, pricing, locations and contact information. They will thank you for this.
  4. Ask how you can pray for them. The families we serve are facing so many challenges today and could benefit from our prayer support. One of the greatest ways we can cheerlead for families is to go to God on their behalf.

     Not only that, but…

  5. Follow up about prayer requests shared. This shows that you care for the families and is a great way to build long-term relationships with them.
  6. Celebrate special milestones. Baby dedications, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, mission trips, etc. are just a few special moments in the spiritual lives of our kids.  Join families in celebrating these important milestones!
  7. Be visible. Take the time to greet families as they arrive, mingle in the hallways and see families off as they depart. Wave hello, give a high-five, and don’t forget to smile!
  8. Send a welcome note to guest families. This year, our guest family check-in team members began to write postcards to children visiting us for the first time. These cards are written on Sunday mornings after the family has been checked in and escorted to their classrooms. We also send an email to the parents the next day, welcoming them and inviting them to complete our brief guest family survey. [If you would like to see what’s included on our survey, you can email me.]
  9. Encourage them. Parenting is tough. Some of our families are really struggling and are just looking for a glimmer of hope. They’re looking for someone to give them a pat on the back and say, “I’m proud of you” or “I’m praying with you. Hang in there.” If you see them doing something right, let them know. If you see their child doing something right, let them know. If you have a resource that might be helpful to help, share it. Provide a gift card for coffee and a pastry.  Ease their burden after a hard day and have a pizza delivered to their house.  The small acts of love and kindness will deeply impact the very parents we’re trying to reach.
  10. Invite them to serve. I almost didn’t include this on the list, but many parents want to be involved in what concerns their children.  The key: invite them to serve in AND out of the classroom setting. Maybe parents or grandparents could:
    1. make costumes
    2. provide snacks for volunteers or classrooms
    3. greet families as they arrive
    4. cut out items at home
    5. gather supplies
    6. organize storage areas
    7. design media elements
    8. solicit businesses for donations

Parents today are looking for support but most of all deep, impactful relationships with others who care about their children.  

Look over this list and choose at least one way that you can strengthen your partnership with families you serve.

If you’re looking for more ways to partner with parents:

Check out my Family Ministry Pinterest Board.

Keep the conversation going! How are you cheerleading for families in your ministry?

7 Things to Remember When a Parent Expresses a Concern

When a parent expresses a concern

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?  Share your ideas below!

Settling In…Finally!

I’ve mentioned several times through this platform that the question I’ve been asked most in the last few months has been, “How are you doing with everything?”  Earlier this summer, I accepted a new position at church and just a few weeks ago, my father-in-law passed away suddenly.  So, it’s not surprising that, “How are you doing with everything?” has been the million dollar question…too bad I can’t collect each time I’ve been asked that! 🙂

It wasn’t until last week that I really felt like I was in a groove.  As a result of the new position and additional responsibilities, many aspects of my ministry were (temporarily, I prayed) on the back burner.  If you know anything about me, you know that I am all for having a personal ministry.  I love connecting with people under my leadership – volunteers, children and parents.  Sadly, I have not had the chance to offer as many personal touches as I had in the past.  That really bothered me and left me feeling like I wasn’t leading well.

While things are still quite busy and we continue to settle in to the new ministry year, I found a couple of hours to work on re-introducing a few personal ministry elements.  These included expanding our social media presence and resuming our weekly Parent Connect e-newsletter.  I feel strongly that if we are partnering with parents, the lines of communication should not only be crystal clear but also varied in approach.  We have to get the word out to parents where they are likely to spend the most time.

Many of our parents are on Facebook more so than Twitter, so I have concentrated our social media efforts to Facebook only.  I have been thinking about our ministry’s social media presence and whether we should have one page for each area of ministry (Nursery, Early Childhood, Elementary and Preteen) or just have one page for our entire Children’s Ministry.  In the end, I decided to create pages for Sprouts (our Nursery environment) and The Backyard (our Early Childhood environment) – we already had pages for The Treehouse (Elementary) and Route 45 (Preteen).  We are still spreading the word about these pages, but feel free to stop by and take a look.

In addition, I communicate weekly with parents electronically.  Years ago, I sent a weekly email, communicating what’s coming up, what the children would be learning and any resources they could take advantage of.  But let’s face it – the look of email is boring.  So, I wanted to spice things up and make it visually appealing while still delivering important information.  Thankfully, our Middle School Director inspired me to use Mail Chimp to accomplish this.  Honestly, it was one of the best moves I have made.  I love how creative I can be in crafting communication to parents.

There are several other things brewing in my head that will be added in the coming weeks and months but we’re taking it one step at at time.  These simple but effective means of communication have made me feel like screaming, “I’m back!!”  And that feels really good!

How do you communicate with parents and volunteers?  Leave me a comment below and fill me in!

How We Brought Preteen Parents and Leaders Together

This past Sunday, we hosted a Small Group Leader & Parent Breakfast for Route 45, our church’s Preteen Ministry.  I was inspired to plan this after I saw an idea on a great website, Stuff You Can Use.  The website offers a free, editable kit that will help you plan the entire event.  The event was originally designed for Middle School Ministry, but I found it easy to design it for our needs.

I described this event to our parents as the church version of “Back to School Night”.  This type of event is usually held in August or September.  Since things were extremely busy in the fall, we scheduled it for February, the mid-point for our ministry year.

Here’s an overview of our event:

Purpose:  The primary purpose of this event was to bring parents and leaders together for a light breakfast and conversation.  Since our preteens are allowed to check themselves in and out on Sunday mornings, many of our parents and leaders had never met.  I didn’t want the school year to go by without this important face-to-face interaction.

Logistics:  We held our event on a Sunday morning during both of our morning services.  Parents were encouraged to attend during the hour that their child attends Route 45.  I recruited a few teens to help me teach the morning’s lesson and help with crowd control.  Leaders were provided with a timeline for the morning and a copy of conversation starters prior to the event so that they’d be familiar with how things would operate.

Promotion & Registration:  We began promoting the event through our weekly parent email approximately two months before the event.  It started as a “Save the Date” promotion and then moved to actual emails with more details.  We also promoted the event through announcements during our preteen Large Group time, our online church newsletter and the church bulletin.  Invitations were provided for each preteen to take home and give to their parents.  (We wanted to publicize in many different ways.)  Our invitations and other handouts were customized to be blue and white (to complement our color scheme) and include our logo.

Food:  We kept the menu pretty simple.  We served muffins, bagels and cream cheese, protein bars, fresh fruit, juice and bottled water.  We were able to keep the event to less than $60 for food and supplies.

Decor:  We set up three 9-foot tables parallel to each other with space to walk in-between.  We covered the tables with table cloths and placed an acrylic sign holder in the middle.  The sign holder held the names of each small group leader.  At each place setting, we placed a legal-sized place mat (with a section for notes); a two-sided post card – one side shared how we want to partner with parents and the other side listed our leaders and contact information; and a feedback card that parents and leaders could use in telling us if the event was beneficial, if we should offer it again and suggestions to make it better.  We also placed name tags, pens, markers and copies of Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof’s book, Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, for parents to peruse.

Here are a few pictures:

Flow for the morning:  At the beginning of the morning, I welcomed parents, shared the purpose of the gathering and brief overview for the morning as well as insight into our ministry year.  (We launched Route 45 in September, so the word for the year is “new”…new format, new curriculum, new leaders, new space, new programming, new, new, new!)  Then I turned things over to our leaders and let them facilitate the conversation.  Five minutes before the service ended, I wrapped up the time by giving a few announcements and a heartfelt “thank you” to our parents and leaders.

Overall, I am so glad that we held this event and I look forward to it again in the fall.  It warmed my heart to see parents and leaders talking about how we can best work together to help our precious children in their spiritual journey.

Leaders and volunteers:  How do you encourage a partnership between your ministry and parents?

Parents:  How can your church better partner with you as you guide your children spiritually?