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Tony Myles is a youth ministry veteran, author, speaker, volunteer youth worker and lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio... and he really likes smoothies.

They’re not coming.

A key family I hoped would sign up for camp told me they won’t be participating.

It’s our fault, really.

YouthGroupCampOur youth ministry team has been busy keeping our calendar full over the past season. We’ve had a “Big Event” each month, kept up our regular Sunday morning classes and made our midweek program the best it could be. We even tried out Group’s new “Simply Youth Group” program to great success (for real – check it out).

We made one of the best looking calendars we’ve ever made, in fact. It was full of logos, pictures, snarky comments and links to all the major events. It’s been a good run – the kind of effort that allows parents to just have to drop their kids off and feel good that a major investment is taking place into their kids.

That’s the problem, actually.

partner_with_parents_211026905Somewhere over the past season we didn’t partner with parents on much of our planning. It wasn’t by intention, but by necessity. Our time was crunched and we had to make several key decisions all at once. It was a lot easier to do that within our leadership circle than to have a large planning process that parents could jump into.

All the plans we made for families didn’t include families.

Here are two dominant symptoms:

  • When a parent looks at a clever logo, they have no idea of what the actual event will look like, how their kid will be taken care of, or why the cost is what it is. There’s a lot of guessing going on.
  • When a kid says, “I don’t want to do that,” the parent doesn’t have any hands-on experience to draw from to say, “I personally know this is going to be incredible for you.”

Like I said, we created this problem ourselves. In our effort to make this a hands-off experience to not burden parents, we kept parents’ hands off of it – and they now have no burden for it.

Sometimes surviving one survival mode just puts you into another survival mode.

That’s the hurdle we’re now facing… and consequently, we’re missing out one one of the biggest “amps” for camp – parents who are excited about it because they see what this experience can do for their kids.

Any tips on how we can recover? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

- Tony

26 COMMENTS

  • Sara says:

    My church had a really big shake up in the last year which included our much loved youth pastor leaving. He left behind a strong but now completely unsupported volunteer staff and we have been working together for the last year to keep the program going for our youth. At the start we listed out everything which happens in a year, put all those events in order of priority, and drew a line where we knew we could do those things well given our current environment. Then we met the parents and let them know that if they viewed anything below the line as vital to the program, they would have to volunteer to run with it and ensure it happened. They stepped up and learned a lot about how much work goes into big events and the youth ministry program in general.

    • Tony Myles says:

      Sounds like you really navigated that well, Sara. I imagine it was a huge comfort to the parents, too. Are you seeing them more involved at this point, or are they just thankful you and the team have their hands on things?

      • Sara says:

        As with the team, as we approach the official one year mark of being without a youth pastor (as well as a lot of other massive changes in our church which happened last summer as a result), everyone is getting a bit tired and worn out. This summer will be interesting as everyone tries to take a break in a way that is meaningful for them. But we have also not had the pressure to do it all ourselves and more appreciation for what we are able to do. We are being told the goal is to hire a youth/associate pastor by the end of the summer and are passionately praying it actually happens this time around.

        • Tony Myles says:

          Hmm… I’d like to pray for you and the team on this. I hear the weariness in your spirit, and have found that it’s often when we look for “something different” in a way that feels clear but is ultimately blurry. This may be the season some folks shift out, or when the team lowers its standards for a quick solution. Renew yourself (and challenge them to do the same) back to what got you into ministry in the first place. And again, I’m praying for you even now in this.

  • Lance says:

    Yeah, I need to figure this out too. I feel pulled in many different directions as far as what the purpose of this youth ministry should be. Honestly, the ministry you describe is the one that I think comes naturally for a lot of us. For me, it’s way easier to focus on the kids, plan lessons, plan out the schedule, put all the pieces of the events together and push the GO button. Reading Rick Lawrence’s book Jesus Centered Youth Ministry really resonated with me though. Confirmed a lot of things that have been bothering me about youth ministry. And really, it’s a great book to read as an individual. Are we personally living a Jesus centered life? Very good stuff. But I think THAT kind of Youth Ministry stretches me as a pastor, in a good way. But I will only be spinning my wheels if the parents haven’t bought into what we’re trying to accomplish and continue the process with their kids at home. So, you’ve inspired me to put a couple of “parent only” events on the calendar. I think I’m going to try to have one around our Kickoff time in the Fall to give parents an idea of what their kids will be learning and how they can partner with us throughout the year, maybe even get commitments to help out with certain events. Then do a follow up in Feb-March for encouragement/evaluation. Hopefully they will show up :D

    • Tony Myles says:

      First off, I seriously have to agree with you on the “Jesus Centered Youth Ministry” book. Rick nailed it, and I hope the youth ministry world continues to become healthier from every person who reads that.

      The other thing you said that hit me was the phrase “the parents haven’t bought into what we’re trying to accomplish…” – which made me wonder if the semantics of that wording imply another hurdle. At the end of the day, we’re really not trying to get them to buy into our thing but God’s thing… and not even His agenda, but Himself. We all know this, and yet maybe because we’re often in the “Let’s take that hill” role we assume that our thing is the end goal. I hope I can probe this with you, because it’s what I’m personally guilty of doing more often than I’d like to admit. What do you think?

  • Chris Codding says:

    I agree with Tony. I think when the church and the parents see we are not focusing on entertainment and pizza but rather Jesus and His missions (with missions!) they will really buy into what you are doing. Our youth have been transformed in the last 5 years for this as I completely converted our ministry to have every event be for outreach or mission work. Outreach can look attractive and have entertainment but its not focused for us…but for those who are not yet there. Most of our kids do not want their parents involved in youth because they want the freedom and the freedom to share.

    • Chris Codding says:

      The best way we get our parents involved is not during small groups or worship but all of our mission work. The setting of missions helps youth and parents work together and this in returns builds relationships!

    • Tony Myles says:

      This is a great idea, Chris. I really like this concept – can you give some examples of how you have lived this out? What types of outreach ideas, for example? Thanks!

      • Chris Codding says:

        Things that have worked for us are our outreach events like carnival’s in the park, fall festivals type events where instead of having youth sign up for spots, I try to have it as family run stations. When mom and daughter are making snow cones, or father son blowing up balloons it helps build the relationships easier than maybe a normal function at home. Their grudges are on hold, and in a relaxed atmosphere. Other things we have done is station them together at our community thankgiving dinners, have familes work together to race and put chairs up after church. We don’t ever advertise it as “parent/family ministry times” but in essence that is what is happening.

        The main thing is building trust with the parents to let them know what you are all about. The more exposure to the church the better, even if its a simple hello when they are leaving youth and saying “Hey, your son is very respectful and I can tell you guys are doing an awesome job” or even a note or email. Youth ministry is not adolescent daycare and until the church sees it as a ministry and not a burden then there is still work to do. It took 4 years for me! The church needs to see you can handle pressure and being responsible. Showing up on time, going the extra mile, never gossiping, etc. These are all things that can help build parents trust and the churchs trust as we work alongside them to minister to their children.

        • Tony Myles says:

          Really like the “family run stations” idea. WOW! What power in that. Your second paragraph reminded me of the scene in the movie “Dangerous Minds” when Michelle Pfieffer’s character visits parents of the teens in her class – parents who are usually used to their kid being in trouble, only this time it’s to affirm their character. Only your idea invites them in to witness AND hear it. Great stuff, Chris!

  • Josh says:

    I’m in a new position and I’m a terrible planner, but I know that parents need and want a calendar. I met with them once, maybe twice, but the frustration of deciding and agreeing on events and details was time consuming. So, in response, I put a bunch of stuff on the calendar myself and presented (emailed) it to them. It’s my first summer, so I’ll see what happens. I think the tension between what other churches and doing and the expectation to emulate them as well as big dreams get in the way of ministry for me. Sharing life and relationships with others is what Jesus did, programs (their details included) have to be the means not the end; that requires planning and discussion months (probably 6 months) ahead of time. That (all of it) begins with calling a meeting and inviting the parents.

    P.s. Preaching to myself.

    Thanks so much! Enjoy having someone to always be able to glean wisdom from.

    • Tony Myles says:

      Thanks, Josh. If you can make a note of it, it would be great to have you circle back to this post at the end of the summer with any observations from how it went. In the meantime, I agree with you that the best way to do life with people is to prioritize it. Sometimes events do that. Other times even planning the events does that, too.

  • Ben says:

    I appreciate your honest self evaluation and ask for help. I was a youth pastor for 12 years and now after 22 years in ministry we are planting a church. I don’t know your context enough to give you specific advice: church size, expectations, DNA of church, denominational influence, community DNA and expectations, etc. In our context we’re trying the “less is more” approach. Keep things simple. Is it possible to scale back (if you have a “big event” each month is it really a big event or just the next event)? Is it possible to invest in more smaller groups than the large group (again I don’t know your context so maybe you do this very well)? As I lead our church and with 3 kids in our youth program, I want there to be activity and momentum, but I don’t want to over-program them either. Church is not a program; it’s relationships and we need to build that and give space for kids to live it out with friends, family, and on their sports teams. And the “less is more” idea doesn’t have to cheapen the event/program – in fact you could have more energy to focus on excellence and preparation and communication. I’m no expert so don’t read into anything I’ve mentioned. Just trying to offer some ideas. Again your context will dictate what you can actually do. Hope this helps in some way.

    • Tony Myles says:

      Thanks, Ben. Trying… still trying. :) You bring up some great questions. It sounds like the main emphasis is on groups where you’re at. Am I picking up on that? I’d be interested even from the church planting angle to hear what it means to do the “less is more” philosophy and yet have quality without quantity. Thoughts?

      • Ben says:

        I wish I could say that our “groups” are hitting it out of the park. The reality is that small groups have been a bit of a challenge but I’m ok with that right now because we are young (2years) and not real big (just under 100), and we rent space and we’re mobile (we rent a middle school) we have to keep our focus on the main thing. For us right now that’s Sunday morning worship. We focus on the relationships by offering some small groups, and we will do 6 mid week hang outs this summer (family event) and host a few Sunday night picnics (family event). We do have a children’s program at the same hour … however, we don’t do “Sunday School” + “church time class” … we rent by the hour. We don’t do VBS … we have no space. We don’t do XYZ, because we don’t have ABC … and you know what — that’s ok. Kids are coming, learning, growing, having fun, and bringing their parents. We have a youth group that meets 2x per month (space + vol issues). But we have a single young woman who is pouring into our girls in a mid week bible study and in 1-1 times, as kids are available. And its awesome. What’s even more awesome is that I keep encouraging this less is more so that when we move to our own home (rental or bought) we will continue to focus on what’s important and not what’s next. Nothing is sacred (apart from God and his Word) so we are open to change. Again, our context and DNA allow us to do this. I know this can work in larger and established churches (I’ve been there) but only if the staff and leaders endorse it. Feel free to email me if you want to discuss more. (info@ccwest.net)

        • Tony Myles says:

          Thanks, Ben. I really appreciated this line: “We don’t do XYZ, because we don’t have ABC … and you know what — that’s ok.”

          Our church is near another congregation that is building aggressively. They’re actually a satellite campus of a big church, and so there’s a temptation to feel envious of their resources. Even this week, though, I made sure our team knows they aren’t our competition – they’re apples and we’re oranges. We can only be the best “us” we can be, and our strengths will be relationships and inter-connectivity… so we’ll be that and let them be them. I sense a similar spirit in what you’re saying here – to do your best and not feel bad for what isn’t your best. Press on!

  • Amanda says:

    When I started up my new ministry this year (only a couple of months ago), I added a section to the parent/emergency contact form that included options like ‘would you like to receive weekly e-mails regarding what we did in LOL that week as well as any ‘homework’ the girls were given’ and ‘would you be interested in an occasional ‘parent focused’ meeting’…The yes’ I got we’re quite surprising, and I was thankful. It should rest on youth ministers alone to ensure the children of today are provided the tools for a faithful and successful tomorrow…We nedd to team up with parents…And I think you’d be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it may be once you have parents involved, too. An e-mail each week only takes a few moments of your time, it makes them feel needed and included, and I firmly believe it will make your ministry even more successful! God bless!!!

    • Amanda says:

      Oh dear…I meant it should NOT rest on youth ministers alone! :)

    • Tony Myles says:

      Good stuff, Amanda. I’ve noticed this personal touch does matter. Last week I dropped some kids off an made it a point to walk up and speak with their parents about camp versus just send the flyer. I think those extra investments make a difference. Good job on your end for giving them the chance to sign up for it!

  • Joe says:

    Wow. This is ironic. (Not really, it’s sovereignty, I know). This post is incredibly timely. I am in my 3rd year at my first full-time gig. I had 10 years of experience prior to this job, but not in the lead role. Since the end of January, almost every conversation I’ve had with parents has basically entailed, “We don’t do enough events.” (Even though I have planned a Youth Ministry “event” every month in addition to all our normal programming. And, oh yeah, I’m also getting it now from children’s parents since I’m also the kids pastor.) Keep in mind as well, that up until the end of February, I was also the Worship Leader (for the last 2 years).

    I too am very frustrated with the “let’s go toss tiddlywinks every week” mentality in american church culture. I know without a doubt that God has called me to teach these young people about Him and to create a culture of discipleship among our youth and kids, a “Pastor”. I’m getting the feeling that the expectation is “Activities Director”. I even put together 4 classes for parents over the course of a month on Sunday mornings to communicate our vision, philosophy, and strategy, and give parents practical equipping, but most of those who have complained didn’t show.

    However, I’ve come to realize a few things over the past few weeks (now that I have dug myself out of the pit I was beaten down into). #1 – You’re not a leader if no one is following you. #2 – Sometimes you have to give them what they “want” so you can give them what they “need”. #3 – People often simply want to be “heard”. #4 – People don’t know, what they don’t know. (especially when it comes to how much work and time goes into these ministries). #5 – God knows what He is doing, and I don’t.

    Through these realizations and some counsel from Godly friends and leadership, I am going to be having a “Parents’ Forum” allowing them to be heard. There are some specific protocols and systems we will follow so that it’s not just a “Hey, I don’t like Pastor Joe’s facial hair!” griping session, but rather a means to a specific goal; “How can we (parents and church) work together to meet expectations, while not sacrificing our principles.” And hopefully have 3 teams come out of it, Youth Events, Kids Events, and Fundraising.

    My prayer is that we will see our minty become more effective because parents are involved, but also because their involvement in things like events will compliment my weaknesses and allow me to work within my strengths.

    But if it doesn’t go down that way, God still knows what He is doing, and I will roll with whatever future He sets into motion.

    • Joe says:

      YOWSA! that comment was too long. Sorry. . .
      I do have a specific question; these “planning sessions” with parents. What do they look like and what is the goal? Just open-ended conversation (who’s got an idea?) or “alright parents, what dates work for you?” Or is it more structured than that?

      • Tony Myles says:

        I can’t speak for everyone on this, but I’ve learned it’s important to go into a meeting with two options and allow for a third that will randomly come up as you discuss the two. For example, “Here are our values and vision as a ministry… (share) Based on that, it seems like a good use of our time this summer iss we can either go somewhere and stay there, like a camp, or head out on mission trip where we visit five different places over five different days? (pause) The second one? Okay, so… I was thinking “x” or “y” as a region within drivable distance. (pause) What’s that? You have connections in “z” instead? What does everyone think about that?”

        I’ve also learned that head nods don’t equal ownership. It helps to ask, “We all agreed this fundraiser is a good idea. Now, how would your family like to take ownership of it?” etc.

        What have you learned that can help with this?

    • Tony Myles says:

      I feel your pain, man. :) I’ve learned (in the past year, actually) how important it is in those sessions to write things down into a notebook or on a wipeoff board as people share. Whether or not you do what they said, they feel listened to and may be inclined to work with you. (i.e. “I can stop making my point now because it’s clear he heard it. So maybe now I’ll hear what he has to say.”)

      Sounds like you have some great values in place. Stay true… don’t let value-driven people beat a God-planted vision out of you. Even good supporters can unknowingly throw water on a godly fire.

  • Sheri says:

    It is really challenging to work with youth in our rural setting. We are in a high poverty area as well. We have about 5 students whose parents are actively involved with the church as members. The others have little or no contact with the church at all. Students rarely come on Sunday. They are fairly active at coming on Wednesday nights when there is more free time to mingle and “play/visit” and have about a 30 minute Bible based lesson with the youth pastor. They seems to show up when we have events or activities. How do we move them to coming to Sunday School/Bible Study? Their spiritual life only seems to show up the few weeks after camp. I have worked as the Sunday School teacher and youth committee leader for years but have never had a group that just did not buy into the Christian/spiritual part before and see it somewhat as typical of our culture. How do we instill the Christian lifestyle/values so they see it is a lifestyle?

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