Mama Caro

Stephanie "Mama" Caro's humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects and author of "Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches" and "99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker." Her next book, “Ten Solutions (to Ten Common Mistakes Small Churches Make)” comes out in 2015. Stephanie is a contributing author to several ministry resources in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine. Stephanie and her husband, Steve, live in Houston, TX.

Third poll in me picking your brain for my track at the SYMConference. Thanks so much for taking the time out of ur busy day.

1) What do you wish your parents knew about ur? youth program??

2) How do you utilize parents in ur ministry??

3) How does ministry to parents fit (or not) into ur ministry?

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  • Andy says:

    Ahh.. Parents.
    1) I wish they knew it was a lot more than just a babysitting service.. I could go on, but that’s all for now.
    2) I TRY to.. but have no response. I have a few (which is better than none) that are willing to help out, drive, donate, etc,… but over all, there are no parents involved.
    3) I have been attempting to have parent’s night, small groups for parents, babysitting… but there has been no response from them in this area. Last “Parent’s Night” I had.. I only had 4 parents. 2 families. I did everything “right.” (phone calls, face to face invitation, newsletters, emails,.. etc, etc) .. and nothing. Very discouraging!

    BUT.. not giving up. Gonna press on.

  • David says:

    1) That we don’t want to replace them as the primary spiritual caregivers.

    2) The Youth Board and I brainstormed several ministry positions for parents. Some examples:
    -Meal Coordinator
    -Ride Coordinator
    -Service Project Coordinator
    -Fundraiser Coordinator
    Not all positions have been filled, but those that have are doing great!

    3)I can’t see how parents wouldn’t fit in any youth ministry, but for ours, they fit because I know they want to be involved. It’s just a matter of finding out what their gifts are and creating opportunities for them to serve.

  • Jonathan Hale says:

    1. I agree with Andy– I wish they knew it was more than a babysitting service. I will say a little more, though. I wish they understood the importance of consistent youth ministry involvement for the overall spiritual health of their child (as an EXTENSION of what they’re doing at home). For parents to think that all the spiritual guidance their children needs comes from the youth ministry is sadly mistaken. I wish they understood that asking questions about what’s going on is so important. I wish they would take some ownership in the group. I wish they knew how to better challenge their children and hold them accountable for commitments they make. When parents are lacking in the commitment department, everyone suffers– the youth ministry AND the children because they are not learning commitment skills early in life.

    2. I don’t involve them much other than sending constant e-mail reminders of what we’re doing and forwarding teenage culture articles to them on occasion. We usually have a parent meeting twice a year just to fill them in on what’s going on, but those meetings seem boring and useless because the parents just think I’m doing fine and they know all they need to know excpet for “when’s the money due for the next trip?”

    3. I don’t have a ministry to parents. I wish I knew what to do. I wanted to have a parental “small group” where they met to discuss the book, “Help! There’s a Teenager in My House” but there was no interest. It would have just “been another meeting” for them to attend. I’m finding out more and more that people want fewer, but more meaningful meetings. Not sure what exactly to do for the parents.

  • Drew Aaron says:

    1. I think parents get the mindset of survival when it comes to teenagers. They want to know how much it costs and when to drop off and pick up. I think we do a good job of letting parents know the information and what is going on in our ministry. I wish a lot of them knew the work and the impact we are having on their child and friends. I think that’s a hard thing to communicate to them because you have to experience it.
    2. I primarily use parents as a support system and not so much in the actual leadership of the ministry. They assist with setup/tear down, chaperones on trips and activities, outreach to the communicty, etc.
    3. I think it’s very difficult to do a ministry for parents that is substantial. We will do parent meetings for informational purposes and then do a parent training twice a year to give them information on current trends. Through these events and helping out in our ministry, we hope that parents will connect with each other and find their own support groups. To be honest, I’m just not sure what else I can really do.

  • Beth Spizarny says:

    That it isn’t just fun-time, and that we can be an incredible resource for them and their teen’s faith development. That it’s really important for their kids to participate!

    Parents volunteer here and there, and I communicate heavily to them and the teens via email.

    Whenever I can chat with parents I do- to listen to what’s going on with them and their teen, but also to re-cast the vision for why we’re doing youth ministry. More conversations = more effective ym and more advocates for our ym!

  • John Curiale says:

    1) What do you wish your parents knew about ur youth program?
    I wish they knew the power of God. I wish they knew the joy of salvation and the importance of partnering with the church to train up their child/ teen in the Lord (Deut 6). I wish they knew that church wasn’t about a bunch of religious rules with fake people. I wish they could encounter Jesus face to face!
    2) How do you utilize parents in ur ministry?
    I build relatiosnhips with as many parents as I can. I visit their homes and eat with them, call them, email them, talk to them (at least once a week). We are reaching them MORE than our students (knowing they will have to live with each other longer) We only get them for 4 years (high school).
    Also I “coach them” and try to bring unity to the family by talking with both the student and parent (bringing communication and trust to each other). This is HUGE and we have see the results!!!!!!!!!!
    3) How does ministry to parents fit (or not) into ur ministry?
    We have had a parent night where parents of students that don’t normally even come—came that night! We have a great dinner and I shared the vision and the GOSPEL (you could hear a pin drop in the room when I did that). The response was overwhelming—-they so appreciated that!

  • John Mulholland says:

    1) What do you wish your parents knew about ur youth program?

    Agree with the above postings, unfortunately we have turned youth ministry into a profession and now parents turn their responsibility over to the professionals. We’ve also done a piss-poor job as the church in equipping parents to disciple their kids. Wash, rinse, repeat. Add into the fact that most of our middle school students are from non-church families, where the parents simply hope their kids don’t get into trouble (or simply don’t get caught), and we are really in trouble. So to sum up, some parents see us as their surrogate, while others see us as a babysitting service.

    2) How do you utilize parents in ur ministry?

    We have some parents that serve as youth leaders, food preparers, etc. This has worked well, but because there are only so many slots, is limiting also.

    3) How does ministry to parents fit (or not) into ur ministry?

    We have a blog site up specifically for parents to try to equip them for ministry (http://eastviewparents.blogspot.com), and send out a weekly email to try to keep them up to speed on details of our ministry. We’ve done “parents workshops” over the years, but turnout has been lousy; good for the ones that came, the ones who did not…I guess they just missed out.

  • Rev. Tami Wenger says:

    ) What do you wish your parents knew about ur youth program?

    That not only do the kids need to be dedicated to going to youth group but the parents do too when it comes to them getting there. As in driving if necessary, or encouraging their kids to go, Support!

    2) How do you utilize parents in ur ministry?

    Getting their kids to youth group, helping with funraisers,, etc.

    3) How does ministry to parents fit (or not) into ur ministry?

    We can offer support to the parents, offer help, etc. More of our energy should be geared toward the kids.

  • laura says:

    1)I wish they knew when their kids come here that they aren’t just playing games and eating snacks. I have had kids get grounded and it included church events as well. This is so backwards from my day. I wish the parents involved themselves enough in thier kids life to know that they are actually learning here.
    2) I utilize parents in a couple ways. I use them to talk the kids in to volunteering, trips, and those sorts of things. They bake snacks once and a while for meetings or events. They chaperone events, and help with fundraising.
    3) We really don’t have an avenue for ministering to parents. Unless they come with us to a concert, christian film, or volunteering event, a lot of them fall through the cracks and it only makes my job harder. If I could involve them more (and though they would actually show up) I would.

    I wish parents knew that they are important to youth ministry. With out them as partners we’d never really know if anything was sinking in. Yeah they are good at baking cookies, driving, and getting the kids there on time (sometimes) but their roll is so much more important than they realize. It’s all about follow through and support.

  • Chris Rookus says:

    1. That I actually watch out for their students more than they assume, you know, the stuff they worry about. I wish they knew that we leaders take this responsibility VERY seriously. Not a big problem, but I wish it were better understood. I also wish they knew more about what we study, for the sake of follow up. I think they get so caught up in their own classes etc… that they aren’t always playing along. So when I send students home with real questions & real answers & they want to make some changes I think some aren’t always ready for radical things from their student. They don’t expect it.
    2. I have some as volunteer sponsors, but that doesn’t work well for all. Too many AND some are there to baby sit & not there for the over all group (not good). Another thing I do is have SNACs (Sunday Night After Church) at their homes so the students & friends are (all 60+ of us) cramming into their house for a quick meal & great fellowship. They also help with vehicle needs, fundraiser organizing, etc…
    3. I think the more I learn after the past 12-13 years the more I realize that I would have better response to the gospel if I focussed more on volunteers & parents. I can’t reach them all, but THEY can together. So I think ministry to parents through information, encouragement, backing them, etc… is CRUCIAL. I like to refer to parents as often as I can to gain the students respect for their parents (on their parent’s behalf). So when they ask about a girl they like, instead of giving a bible answer or my opinion I right away ask “what do your parents think of her or you dating at all?” so they right away are reminded of the authority God has placed for them right there in front of them. This has changed many conversations to obedience & respect rather than whatever topic they come to me about. It’s helped a ton.
    The only way I limit a parent FROM our ministry is if they just DONT connect well with students to the point it’s a hindrance, otherwise I pretty much let them get as involved as I can while still wearing the pants in the group. It can be hard, but very beneficial.

    God bless! Hope the Track goes great!


  • Gina says:

    1. I wish they knew how much time it takes to prepare programs, Sunday School lessons, worship services and fundraising efforts. I think if they knew the effort it takes to put on youth programs that they would honor the commitments they/their child make.
    2. A few of my volunteer youth leaders are parents of youth. Parents also help with fundraisers and chaperone events.
    3. I send the parents weekly updates about our programs and events. As part of the weekly update I add birthday and anniversary greetings to the parents. I offer support and encouragement to the parents as needed, but most of my support is geared towards the youth. I meet a few times a year with parents of our college freshmen to keep them connected now that their child is no longer in our program. Once a year I have the senior high youth prepare a spaghetti dinner for their parents. In the past we have had a few bring your parents to Sunday School days.

  • Cheryl says:

    1) What do you wish your parents knew about ur youth program?
    That we have a vision and we arent just “taking care” of their teenagers for a couple of hours a week.

    2) How do you utilize parents in ur ministry?
    I try to utilize parents in the ministry. I keep them updated with regular “newsletters” and speak with them 1:1 regarding Youth group. Parents tend not to offer to help out or I have to beg them for help, which is awfully frustrating.

    3) How does ministry to parents fit (or not) into ur ministry?
    I think its important that they are involved too, however I get the feeling that they feel as if they dont need to (“others are doing it…”).

  • Mike Rau says:

    Good ol’ parents…

    1)There are 3 things that come to mind with parents…
    a)need them to understand how valuable a youth ministry is during the critical years of a teenagers life.
    b)Making sure they make it a priority to not attend church on a regular basis, but also youth events.
    c) Helping their own youth grow in his/spiritual journey and not just the bulk coming from youth ministry.

    2) We try to utilize parents every chance we can get. We have them volunteer to make meals at our weekly youth meetings. We schedule youth and their family activities to get them involved and see first hand what we do. We have used (and continue) for fundraising.
    Some parents can be the biggest hurdle in getting his/her youth involved from the start of the teen years. 2 years ago we lead a youth mission trip which required a flight across the country. None of the parents had ever been to the part of the country where we were going to be for the week and they really didn’t have concerns. The following year our annual mission trip was to the closest city to us, which is about 15-20 miles from our church. Parents were concerned because they believed that the city was not safe, because of the problems they see in the media.
    3) We try to fit our parents in as much as possible. In a sense, we want them to be the biggest support system for our ministry. We have parent meet meetings twice a year. However, we have found that we are getting less parents out to the meetings because they have told us that they very comfortable in the program/know what’s going on from the weekly emails and there is no reason for them to come out. We use every angle to communicate with them. We have a youth website, send out weekly emails to the youth/parents of the upcoming lesson for the week/upcoming events, and send out just a parent email after the lesson for the week explaining the lesson and encouraging them to continue the lesson throughout the week (even gives them follow-up questions that they can ask their youth). And lastly, we network with them.

  • Mike Rau says:

    my answer to question #1 b should read, making sure they not only make it a priority to attend church, but also youth events.

  • Susanne says:

    1) I have great parents who are very supportive of the program. I think they know a lot about what we do and the work into it.
    2) My parents will cook meals for us on a weekly basis, they volunteer to do this. They also are great to volunteer to drive and chaperone trips. We went on a mission trip this past summer and I had 5 parents go. They have also volunteered to run youth group and teach Sunday school when I was on vacation.
    3) I would like to expand my ministry to ministering to the parents, but I’m a one woman show and have a full-time job besides the Youth coordinator job.

  • Mindi says:

    I wish they knew I can’t do everything myself. I wish they would step up and help without being personally asked!
    2-There is only one parent involved with the kids each week and her son has gone to another church’s youth group! The other 30 kids’ parents just drop them off and pick them up. Occasionally will throw money at us.
    3-Exactly the same as Susanne

  • Jana says:

    1. I wish parents knew that it was not my responsibility to save their child, or raise their child – I am a partner in their quest to raise a child!
    2. I ask them to come to two meetings a year to talk about ministry – goals – ways they can help. Most parents are willing to chaperone events, but not having a desire to be leaders (or their students have told them they do not want them there)
    3. My best parent interaction was when I taught a sunday school class on teen culture or parenting your teens. The meetings as mentioned in number 2 got a few people, but the SS class – got about 35 -40 people. Many parents are expecting you to do all the work (see#1) I wish they understood!

  • Brenda says:

    Before I answer these, I have to put a disclaimer out there that I have only been working at my current church for about 7 month and starting from scratch so I am spoiled by having excited parents and not having to fix something broke.
    1. I wish all of my parents could grasp the importance of making youth group a higher priority in their teens life.
    2. I invite my parents to our youth leader’s meetings (at the begining some came, now not so much (I just tell myself that they trust us and don’t feel they need to know everything)… I also have a few that rotate in coming to our student night. A lot of them I can call to help with transportation, food, donations, etc.
    3. I repeat over and over to my parents that I only have a tiny amount of time with their teen compared to them. I am figuring out (the longer I am in youth ministry) that youth ministry is not about ministering to teens. It is my job to minister to the whole Family (including church family) so that they can all partner in helping make a difference in these teens lives. I can’t do this alone. It is so important to reach out to parents (as hard as it can be sometimes). Ok, better stop there before I start a sermon here…

  • Timothy Emmons says:

    #1- As mentioned by at least 1 other, I sometimes think they think of me, or at least treat me, as a glorified babysitting service that allows them to get their kids out of the house for a couple of hours during the week. I don’t think many of them understand what it takes to run a youth ministry, or maybe they don’t want to know, including the time we have to put into it. On the other hand, I want to start some sort of parent meetings, either monthly or at least quarterly.

    #2- The most difficult thing for me to get them to do is provide consistent transportation for their own kids. All too often, I am either waiting around for them to arrive or driving them home myself. There is at least 1 kid each week that calls for a ride to youth group. I feel like I need to keep asking them for assist, even with their own, instead of offering. This is probably the most frustrating part of youth ministry.

    #3- We are still a small church and do not have a dedicated ministry to the parents. This year, I want to begin having a parents night at least on a quarterly basis but no really sure how to get this off the ground.

  • Brooke says:

    1)What do you wish your parents knew about your youth program?
    That I think of myself as a “Family Minister”, not a “Teen Pastor”. My whole ministry stems from Deut. 6, where Parents are the ones encouraged to teach their children faith at home. I believe that, no matter what I do, if the Family isn’t discussing & teaching & modeling faith at home, faith will not grow in the teens. My job is to provide opportunities for parents to start these discussions and find new ways to talk about faith.

    2) How do you utilize parents in your ministry?
    We gave up our “youth group” night and instead have “Family Night” – we have an “open gym/lounge” time for game playing and activities, and then a Bible study focused on something that will spark conversations about faith between teens and their parents. (This month, it’s studying how movies speak about faith, which has worked out really well, as parents generally have strong opinions about which movies they think are “good” or “bad” for their kids, and why).
    We also schedule regular “Family Events” throughout the year, such as holiday parties or an upcoming Family Retreat, making sure to schedule these in family-appropriate times (very rarely late-night, or on days that would generally have deeper family significance).

    3) How does ministry to parents fit (or not) into ur ministry?
    Hopefully, they fit into every part of our ministry. I let them know that I see THEM as the main spiritual influence in the life of their kids, and do what I can to let them know that I value them. As I am not a parent myself, I do what I can to let them speak from the parental point of view in all aspects of ministry.
    I also make a point of sitting with parents whenever I go to events their kids are in. (This provides a GREAT way to hear from the parents what joys/concerns they have about their kids, where their guards are down and we don’t have to worry about their kids overhearing if their parents have concerns about their behavior/friends/etc)
    I also try to write “thank you” notes to parents who help out regularly – its amazing how much an over-worked mom appreciates a “thank you”!

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