Without thinking too hard, you could probably tell me exactly who they are. In many smaller and mid-sized ministries, you wouldn’t even need two hands to tally them. What we’re talking about are the parents who will actually be present at a typical youth or children’s event. What about all the other parents? Well, like you, I tried to let them know that they were welcome to come to the event. But the moment their children exited the minivan and the doors latched, their vehicles careened out of the parking lot and didn’t return until the event was over.
If that’s what you’ve experienced in your ministry, I understand why you may be a bit skeptical about our next suggestion—but stay with me for just a moment, if you don’t mind. One possibility for synchronizing a ministry event with the lives of families is to involve parents in the event.
Notice that I did not say simply to invite parents to the event—that’s what many of us have tried many times before with minimal success. What I am talking about here is involving parents in the event. When we invite parents to an event, what we’re letting parents know is that we want them to be present to support what we’ve planned—and there are times when such invitations may need to happen. Involving parents is very different from inviting them, though. When we involve parents, we design the experience so that the presence of the parents is necessary for the event to work.
Here are three quick recommendations for involving parents, followed by four specific ideas:
* Involving parents is likely to require some training. Otherwise, some dads and moms may try to parent everyone in the youth or children’s ministry, while others may focus so strongly on their own children that their involvement isn’t helpful to anyone else.
* Communicate clearly to the parents beforehand what they need to do to make their involvement effective.
* Be prepared to debrief all parents after the event. If some parents’ interactions weren’t particularly helpful, pull them aside later and speak to them with gentleness and grace. Regardless of their inadequacies, these parents have still been divinely designated as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.
And what sorts of events might function well with this degree of parental involvement?
* Maybe a youth mission trip where parents lead as crew chiefs and where, each morning, parents gather to learn how to lead a family faith-talk over a particular biblical text. Then they lead that faith-talk with their family members that evening. That way, parents are involved and trained to disciple their families.
* What about redesigning preschool ministry for a purpose larger than providing free baby-sitting during worship celebrations? What if the purpose of the church’s nursery became the training of every child to participate in whole-church worship celebrations by the time the child turns six? And what if parents became involved in this process once per month, sitting with their child during a miniature worship service? After all, parents are the people who will be overseeing their child in “big church.” Why not give parents the opportunity to practice before that time?
* What about reworking your small groups for youth and children so that a parent leads an opening devotional each week?
* What about metamorphosing the previous generation’s weekend youth retreats to become legacy milestone events where parents and families-in-faith celebrate rites of passage with teenagers?
Now, what about those children whose parents aren’t yet believers in Jesus? That’s why having what I’ve called “families-in-faith” is so important in a family-equipping faith-community! Whenever an event requires the involvement of parents, families-in-faith are moms, dads, and older adults who joyfully embrace the task of serving as parents for children and youth whose families are not present.