Some youth workers call them community kids.
Others call them walk-ins, drop-ins, or visitors. We think of them differently than church kids and have negative stereotypes of them and their families. They are precious, though. They need our help and we need them in our youth ministries. We could make things better for them if we could work with their families. Here are ways that effective youth ministries are building bridges:
Drop Prejudice and Stereotypes
Honestly, consider what stereotypes you have of parents of community kids:
- What stereotypes do you have of the ethnic backgrounds these students come from?
- Do you expect low income kids to behave poorly?
- What prejudices do we have of their parents?
Getting past our negative profiling will help us to see each student as an individual and then we can accurately assess their needs. Each leader needs to take the time to get to know these students. It may require one to one work with them by a volunteer. A home visit would be ideal. The more we know about a student the better we can support them in the teen years.
Get Past the Fear
We fear the unknown. As long as the parents of students are unknown to us irrational fears can kick in. I asked youth workers what they feared about working with the parents of community kids. Here’s what they said:
- Fear of rejection. If a parent doesn’t attend church I expect they will reject church leaders.
- Fear of their stereotypes. I expect parents to assume the worst of me.
- Fear of complications. I don’t know what could happen to me if I get involved with a family.
- Fear of expectations. What if parents take advantage of me because I am helping their kid.
- Fear of being uncomfortable. I wouldn’t know what to talk about with people who don’t go to church.
- Fear of making things worse for the student. If the parents know what we believe they may not let their child attend our group.
For youth workers who have dropped off kids at the door, talked to parents when they call the house, or sit with families at sports events they have found most of their fears unfounded. They have found that most parents are very happy that other adults in the community show an interest in their son or daughter. Instead of rejection they have found that by knowing about the church, and the leaders, a family was more willing to let their teen attend retreats, Sunday services, activities, and other events.
I wish someone had built bridges with my family when I began attending a different church than my parents. My dad couldn’t respect a youth worker who wouldn’t meet him face and look him in the eye. He figured that the people who dropped me off at the door would have wanted to meet him. If they didn’t they must have something to hide. No wonder he was suspicious and unsupportive of my church involvement. Here’s what some better youth ministries are doing for parents of community kids:
- Treat them like any parent in church. Make invitations and expect the best.
- Get all parental emails and keep them updated. They may not attend parent meetings since they expect the other parents to all members of your church. But you can give them all the information in emails.
- Get parental permission for jr high kids to attend your group. Today in our sue-happy-culture you should get parental approval regardless if a student’s family attends your church or not. Better safe than sued!
- Invite parents to a family games night. Here is a low risk non-threatening event for parents who do not attend your church. A bowling night, bbq with games, helps them to get a picture of your ministry and to meet the leaders.
- Meet parents in their home (drop off something) –Some groups have a process of meeting parents when a new student attends the youth ministry. They drop off a gift or go to get signatures. My wife and I did this at one church and every family invited us in!
- Email out calendar and news letter. These leaders found that the more they communicated the more they were trusted. For some families, they found it was enough to get them to attend church .
- Have students participate in a show, invite all parents. Some groups have a talent night and invite the whole community. This past weekend dozens of youth were involved in the passion play which brought out their parents to church on a Sunday evening. My church is running a youth presentation at all 3 services on a Sunday the teens parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents will be there with video cameras. They will become comfortable with the building and have an opportunity to meet the pastors.
- Parent Appreciation Night around Mothers day. One church I know has the students serve their parents at a parents appreciation night. A woman’s ministry invites the teens and their moms to an event. There are endless possibilities of events to get parents out to the building.
- Invite families to all family events at church. Once they have emails and phone numbers exceptional youth ministries make a point of inviting students and their families to church picnics, strawberry socials, concerts, Halloween alternatives, Christmas banquets, even youth ministry fundraisers!
- Involve them where possible. Some youth ministries have found unchurched parents more willing to volunteer with the youth ministry than parents who attend the church. Parents, drive, cater meals, provide snacks, help with set up for events, assist with bottle drives, and chaperone some events.
- Imagine that you are trying to win them to Christ. In some case youth workers have found that parents believe in Jesus but stopped attending church years ago. Involvement from youth workers renewed their faith and brought them back to church. In other cases the love that a youth leader showed a family was enough for the Buddhist mom to want to accept Christ.
It’s Worth It!
I could have been helped if someone from my church had even just talked with my dad when I was a teen. Building bridges with parents will build trust, acceptance, and understanding with families. If youth ministries see this as part of their primary calling we will make a much bigger impact in the community.