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{8 ways} you can shrewdly re-engage them, from youth leaders who are getting it done.

Editor’s Note: Every so often I do a live training version of my book Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry. Midway into the first hour, I always ask small groups to wrestle with this question: “What are the challenges you’re facing right now in helping teenagers experience a relationship with Jesus in their everyday lives?” As groups wrestle with this question, I walk around and listen.

The lightning rod issue I overhear most? Without a doubt, it’s a super-charged frustration with parents who are not “pulling their weight” in the hard work of discipling their own children. The problem is, I always hear way more complaining about this problem than ideas that are effective in addressing it.

So I decided to collect ideas and strategies from youth leaders who’ve found ways to equip and challenge parents to become more active in their kids’ faith development. Here are the best of the best.

1 Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry offers both an unusual perspective on effective youth ministry and a host of ideas and strategies designed to fuel transformation in kids’ lives. My mantra is: The closer you get to Jesus, the more likely you are to grow. To check it out, go to youth ministry.com and click on my face at the bottom of the home page…but do it gently.

{offer home reinforcements}
Every week I post copies of a handout on our youth room bulletin board and encourage parents to grab one. The handout tells what we have learned about that night and includes our Scripture passage, a memory verse, discussion questions, and a prayer. I encourage the parents to take the handout home and do it with their kids to reinforce the Bible lesson.
—Jamie and Brad Thomas
Ponca City, Oklahoma

{plan a free family conference}
A couple weeks ago we hosted a free family conference titled “Attack on the Family…and the Family Is Yours.” The conference was Friday evening and all day Saturday. We have four pastors (senior, associate, youth, and children’s), and each of them took turns talking to the parents about what they can do both spiritually and practically to help their families grow in their faith.

To make it fun, we went all out with our theme and decorations. The theme was the ’50s B-movie look. All of the greeters, ushers, and ticket-takers were dressed up like theater workers from the ’50s. We also had a snack bar and did it up like a soda shop, serving cola, root beer, and cream soda (in glass bottles), sundaes, and popcorn. The soda shop workers also dressed up to look the part. It was really a great weekend, and we’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from the parents who attended.
—Sara Miller
Lancaster, Ohio

{produce a monthly newsleter}
Every month I publish a newsletter especially for the parents of our youth. Titled “Connexion,” this newsletter provides an update on what we’re discussing in youth group that month as well as the Christian discipline we’re studying and practicing. Perhaps most important, each issue contains a “Family Practice Spotlight” that offers suggestions for how families can incorporate each month’s Christian practices into the life of their family. I see myself as a conversation-starter and conversationenabler, equipping families to talk about the issues of faith that don’t always come very easily.
—Dave McNeely
Jefferson City, Tennessee

{get outside the church}
I’ve found that getting to know kids outside of the church has made it easier for me to communicate with parents. I send personal notes to the kids at home by mail at least twice a month. I also use that opportunity to send a very friendly note to kids’ parents with reminders of upcoming activities and a monthly newsletter with stories and pictures of what the kids have been doing. I also try to have lunch with the kids at school, send them cards on their birthdays, and deliver a present or balloons at home or at school. Because of these outside-the-church efforts, I notice that parents talk to me more at church—I’m more approachable to them. One parent even thanked me for caring for her daughter so much. Through these contacts I see them taking their kids’ spiritual lives more seriously.
—Vernice Blackaby
Cleveland, Tennessee

{use research to grab their attention}
We host a special citywide program for parents titled “Will Our Kids Have Faith?” It’s a high-impact PowerPoint presentation on the National Study of Youth and Religion that helps parents wake up to their indispensable role in rearing their children in the faith. The NSYR really hits home because it serves up compelling quantitative evidence that:

  • Parents are the most important factor in the faith development of their children, bar none.
  • Involvement in religion is a powerful indicator of the general health and well being of children—the more involved they are, the less at-risk they are. If you’re a parent and serious about your children being successful, make sure they’re faith-filled.
  • More equals more—there’s a “blessed cycle”that happens when kids get involved in a broad range of religious activities (regular worship, prayer, social activities, retreats, mission trips). The more involved they become, the more they want to get involved.

Parents learn that if they want their kids to have faith, they need to take immediate and decisive action to evaluate their own and their families’ priorities. They’re challenged to make concrete decisions to put faith at the center of their own personal lives and the lives of their families. Most parents desperately want to do right by their kids, but they get distracted and sidetracked by all the other things that kids are up to these days (sports, extracurriculars, and jobs). They feel isolated and overwhelmed by our culture of relentless busyness and option overload. They don’t need to be “guilted” into action; most deeply appreciate being awakened to the need and getting the moral support for what they want to do anyway.

We strongly recommend that parents form groups and networks with one another to share ideas, struggles, success stories, and to lend support and prayer when the going gets tough. Our next step in this project is to provide lots of practical ideas that parents can apply in their families right away.
—Sean Reynolds
Cincinnati, Ohio

{use cultural issues and parenting tips as the “hook”}
Plan parent meetings that focus on a youth culture subject. As a launching point, you can use an article (from group’s “Trends” section), statistics, or even a YouTube clip. A “hot” cultural issue can be the entry point for parents to not only share about the topic, but also branch into the other stuff they face daily with their teenagers. Parents encourage each other, share what they’ve learned (even the hard way), and gain new insights while you sit back and watch. Other than introducing the topic and monitoring the conversations, you don’t need to lecture or be the know-it-all.

If you’re ready for a more structured approach, plan a series of parenting classes. It’s not directly focused on spiritual training, but it hits a felt need for parents and offers a platform to loop in spiritual truths. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has identified 12 “active parenting” activities—we’ve built our parenting series on these 12 ideas (we combine them into six classes and add the topic of family prayer and Bible reading). The Center’s study says that if parents practice 10 out of 12 of these activities, they have a much better chance of their child growing up right. The 12 active parenting activities include:

  1. liMonitor what your kids are watching on TV.
  2. Monitor your kids’ use of the Internet.
  3. Put restrictions on the CDs they buy.
  4. Know where your kids are after school and during weekends.
  5. Have an adult present when the teenager comes home from school.
  6. Know the truth about your teenager’s whereabouts and activities.
  7. Be aware of your teenager’s academic performance.
  8. Impose and enforce a curfew.
  9. Know your predetermined response to substance abuse.
  10. Eat dinner with your teenager six or seven nights a week.
  11. Turn the TV off duringdinner.
  12. Assign regular chores for your teenager.

We use video, special speakers, our senior pastor, and our own staffers to offer great classes for our parents and community.
—Brenda Seefeldt
Occoquan, Virginia

{parent-connecting resources}
Here’s a sampler of great resources that will help you connect with and equip your kids’ parents to grow in their role as “primary disciplers.”

Parent Fuel Kit and Parent Pack
by Barry St. Clair
These two excellent resources from Barry St. Clair’s organization Reach Out Youth Solutions offer a comprehensive, engaging foundation for equipping parents to do what they often feel they can’t do—challenge and nurture faith growth in their kids. Included: a penetrating and personal book written by St. Clair, along with a small group leader’s guide, a journal, DVDs and audio CDs. Go to reach-out.org for more information.

Plugging In Parents
(Group)
The compilation of hundreds of practical ideas is a must-have resource for making connections with parents. The savvy strategies in this book are gleaned from youth pastors all over the world, and are born out of practice, not theory. Check it out here.

Family-Based Youth Ministry
by Mark DeVries
The Family-Friendly Church
by Ben Freudenburg and Rick Lawrence
These two books, published around the same time, are the philosophical “bookends” that helped spark the family ministry trend in churches. Different in emphasis and approach, both books offer a blueprint for building a ministry that challenges and equips parents. Check them out at ymarchitects.com and Family Resources here at YouthMinistry.com.

HomeWord
Youth ministry icon Jim Burns not only hosts a popular radio show geared toward equipping parents to be the “primary faith nurturers” in their kids’ lives, but through HomeWord.com he offers the resources to help make it happen. Online articles, books, and training events cover the bases. HomeWord is now home to Wayne Rice’s excellent Understanding Your Teenager seminar—a practical training experience geared for churches and presented by a well known team of veteran youth workers.

{find ways to engage and equip}
We recruit parents to serve as adult leaders in our weekly sessions and camps. This gets the adults connected with the youth at large and allows me to spend some one-on-one time with them. Nine out of 10 times, the adults who volunteer to be adult leaders become a faithful part of what we do here because it’s fun for them and because they grow in Christ. I also host Bible studies and sessions that target the parents of the youth—this fall we’ll be studying The Five Love Languages of Teenagers 2 by Gary Chapman. My hope is that this will continue the growth of parents who are already plugged in and allow new parents to get exposed to what God is doing in this ministry. We are also offering single-parent small groups to aid those who do not have a spouse.
—Mac Jordan
Moseley, Virginia

The Five Love Languages of Teenagers builds on Gary Chapman’s long expertise in helping people connect more deeply with each other. Check it out at here.

{Teach the Basics}
Our church has a large number of parents who are first-generation Christians. In serving these parents and their families, I’ve found that those who were not raised in an actively Christian home do not know how to have a daily devotional time with their children. Even parents who were raised in Christian homes can struggle when they’re faced with the seemingly difficult responsibility of leading devotions. So this summer our church is hosting The Strong Family Challenge —it’s a hands-on time of family fun centered on teaching families how to do devotions together. Four Wednesday nights during the summer, families will experience short and simple teaching segments that focus on family friendly devotional topics (including discussion questions that parents can ask). The four nights also include activities that get our families involved in worshipping God and praying together, having fun together, serving the church together, and serving the community together.

In addition, we’ve posted supplementary family devotions and activities
on our Web site that expound on that week’s topics. After the four-week
family challenge is over, we will continue to offer “print and play” devotions
and activities to families.
—Alissa Scrabeck
Winona, Minnesota

{What I Ned From My Youth Pastor}
By Jim Burns
When my daughter Rebecca was in middle school, she had a great youth leader named Eric. Most of the time she liked Eric better than she liked us! One Saturday afternoon Cathy and I watched Rebecca’s dance recital. I looked to the other side of the room and I saw Eric and his wife. I said to Cathy,
“Hey, there’s Eric and Bea, I wonder who they’re here to watch?”

When Rebecca was finished with her recital, I came running up to her with a bouquet. She looked at me and ran straight past me to Eric and Bea. She gave them an enthusiastic hug and thanked them profusely for attending her recital. Then it dawned on me—Eric and Bea were there to cheer Rebecca on. Immediately my eyes filled up with tears. I was just another parent, grateful that our youth workers took time to encourage our daughter.

Eric and I used to meet to talk about life and youth ministry. One day he asked me what he could do to help parents. I said: “Remember that you’re partnering with parents in the spiritual development of their kids. For most of us, being intentional about family spiritual growth doesn’t come naturally.” I asked him for…

  1. Information—I’d ask my kids what they learned on a Wednesday night and they’d say something like, “We talked about God and stuff.” Later I’d find out that they were challenged to be sexually pure. If I was going to nurture their spiritual growth, I needed information from my youth worker.
  2. Content—I knew I needed to develop faith conversations and family times but most parents don’t have a clue where to begin. I asked Eric for content and curriculum that would help me create “spontaneous faith conversations” with my kids. Many parents will give “family faith time” a try, but most don’t know where to begin.
  3. Inclusion—Maybe the best thing Eric ever did was invite parents on a mission trip to Mexico. Two of my daughters and I joined several other kids and their parents for a week of ministry. We ministered together side by side. I still treasure those moments that we shared.

Eric isn’t Rebecca’s youth worker anymore. Today he’s a friend who influenced her years ago. Somehow he understood that the most effective youth ministry happens when you partner with parents.

jim is host of the 30-minute daily radio broadcast HomeWord With Jim Burns and authored one of the seminal books in youth ministry—The Youth Builder.

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