For the last five years or so, our church has embraced the idea that we, as a church, need to partner with parents in order to make a lasting spiritual impact on kids and students. But since our middle school ministry sees about 350 kids every Sunday (with around 500 students who attend either weekly or bi-weekly), we were a little stuck on how to actually put that idea into practice. While we loved the idea of partnering with parents, in reality, we weren’t sure how to establish partnerships with these parents who we didn’t know and barely even saw.
But we were determined to make this parent partnership thing happen. So last fall, we decided it was time to just try something.
We started with the understanding that, for a ministry our size, the parent partnerships would have to happen mostly through our small groups. We rely heavily on our Small Group Leaders to act , in many ways, as mini youth pastors to their students – that includes some connecting and partnering with the parents of their students. But while we had been casting that vision to our Small Group Leaders for years, we hadn’t given them many practical ways to make that connection and partnership happen.
That’s when we realized that the solution to this problem could actually be really simple. Maybe all we needed to do to begin these partnerships was to get parents and Small Group Leaders in the same room together, cast the vision, and let them hang out. It almost seemed too obvious and too simple to work… but we tried it anyway.
And, honestly, the results blew us away. We couldn’t believe the response and the feedback we received, from both parents and Small Group Leaders. Parents jumped at the chance to talk to their kids’ Small Group Leaders. It refocused and reenergized our team and was the catalyst to beginning a huge wave of partnership and connection with parents. Our ministry is very different today than it was two years ago, and we believe this simple event played an enormous role in that transformation.
The event itself was pretty straight-forward…
- We provided breakfast and set up a table for each of our Small Group Leaders and their students’ parents.
- Our Middle School Pastor and I began the event with a short 5-minute introduction and time of vision-casting for the day.
- Everyone got a placemat that doubled as a fun “conversation-starter,” with silly questions, spiritual questions, personal questions, and questions that would spark conversation specifically about Small Group Leader and parent partnerships.
- Parents all received their Small Group Leader’s “business card,” with their photo and contact information on it.
- We promoted the book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, by Reggie Joiner & Carey Nieuwhof (which encourages parents to strategically partner with other believers to help them influence their kids), and provided a bunch of copies that parents could borrow.
- Parents received a feedback card, where they could share their thoughts and ideas.
And then, for a full hour (actually, more than that – it was hard to get people to go home!) parents and Small Group Leaders just… talked. They got to know each other. They talked about their kids. They brainstormed ways they could partner together. They planned get-togethers and service projects for their students. Parents shared their concerns and struggles. Small Group Leaders gained lots of valuable information about their students that they didn’t know before. And, at the end of the morning, both parents and Small Group Leaders saw what it could be like to work together for the sake of the kids they were both trying to influence.
We definitely don’t have this “parent partnership” thing figured out yet. But I think we’re making strides.
Two years ago, the idea of partnering with parents seemed like a nice idea, but it also seemed a little idealistic. Today, partnering with parents is much easier, and even natural, for the majority of our Small Group Leaders.
Just last week, two of our Small Group Leaders planned and hosted their own parent get-together, completely on their own (and they’re both only in high school). Nine Small Group Leaders had Christmas parties this weekend – for their students and their whole families, too. Many of our Small Group Leaders send out weekly or monthly e-mails to parents about what their students are learning and how things are going in small group. And this Sunday, our staff was just talking about how we receive remarkably few “child in crisis” phone calls from parents, partially because, when issues arise, many parents go to their child’s Small Group Leaders for help first. We really are blessed by an incredible team of Small Group Leaders. They’ve caught the vision and now they’re working on living it out.
While this event we put together certainly isn’t a fix-all, and may not work in every context, it did work for us – in big ways. So if it can help even one other ministry, we wanted to make it available and easy to customize for other churches and their ministry contexts. Everything we created for this event, including a how-to guide, is available as a free download, and is fully editable and customizable, on our website for SHINE! Middle School Ministry.
If it seems like something that you could use (even if it’s just for one component, like the conversation-starters or the Small Group Leader business cards), take it, edit it, and make it your own. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to shoot us an e-mail, that’s what we’re here for.
We hope it can be as effective for other churches as it was for us!