Over the last few years, there has been study after study that have reaffirmed what many of us in youth ministry have observed for decades: parents have a tremendous amount of influence on how their children's lives look, especially as it pertains to their faith. The standard bearer of these studies is still the National Study of Youth and Religion, the most comprehensive study on teenagers and religion ever conducted. (The NSYR spun off the excellent books "Soul Searching," Souls in Transition," and "Almost Christian.") The NSYR found that parents are the single most influential social factor in the spiritual lives of American teenagers. Chances are, if you've been in youth ministry any time at all, you've seen this to be true.
So what do you do with students in your youth ministry who do not have the luxury of parents who are Christ-followers?
If you're like me, you have more than a few students in your ministry whose families are completely unchurched. These students' faith-walk is their own . . . neither encouraged nor discouraged by their folks. But if parents are the greatest influences teenagers have, what can we do to reach them for Jesus? As I have dealt with this issue over the years, there are a few things I have learned. (I'd love to hear what has worked for you.)
Love Their Kid!
The fastest way to a parent's heart and life is through their teenager. Send notes to the parent bragging on their student (and, by osmosis, on them as a parent). Call to check in on the student after the big game or the big test (and try your hardest to talk to the parent, as well.) Loving their teenager will go a long way toward breaking through to them.
We make a mistake when we don't invest intentional time in KNOWING our students' parents as deeply as we do their children! Ask about their jobs, their families, their hobbies. Invite them for coke as often as you do their kids.
Look For Open Opportunities
Opportunities to build relationship with parents, churched or otherwise, are all around us. Take a couple of these and capitalize on them as you come up with ideas that fit your ministry venue best:
- Have a team of people who meet parents in the parking lot as they retrieve their children. Offer them cookies, a drink, or a youth flyer advertising important stuff.
- If you pick up kids for events, go to the door. Say hi. Shake their hands.
- When you make parent meetings mandatory (like for camp, etc.), make sure you carve out time to talk with them while they are on your turf. Introduce them to other parents in the room.
- Friend them on Facebook. (But don't stalk them.) Remind them how great their kid is - send a text, a video message, or post on their Facebook wall.
- Invite parents over for dinner. Have them in your home. Offer hospitality.
- Remember their names . . . something beyond 'Hey Cody's mom.' Names matter. And knowing theirs will communicate that you care about them beyond their children.
- Show up in a crisis. Give flowers in bereavement and go to the funeral. Give a gift card when dad loses a job (or take that opportunity to invite them for dinner.) Text an applicable Scripture. Be open and available, as needed.
What have you done recently to engage an unchurched parent?
I'd love to hear your ideas.