By Keely DeBoever
Kick-off season is upon us in the world of Youth Ministry. The chaos of summer is coming to an end, and Youth Ministry leaders barely have time to catch their breaths before the chaos of a new school year begins. One important component of the kick-off season is welcoming students—new and old; and where there are students, a parent or guardian is near by. It’s amazing how often we forget that!
As leaders, many of us live in the world of youth ministry every day. It can be easy for us to forget that the rest of the world is not as well-versed in faith-based/church-specific lingo, why faith-based programs and events are important for a student developing their faith, or adolescent culture as a whole. If we take a beat to remind ourselves of that, we will be doing a huge favor to our church families (and to ourselves).
Here are a few tips about how to welcome these new families effectively:
1. Explain the lingo! It can feel incredibly isolating to be a part of a parent or student meeting when the leader is using what seems like another language. The leader may feel like they are being welcoming…after all they are inviting you to be a part of something. However, if you can’t figure out what you’re being invited to, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good. Here is what NOT to do: We want to invite all Confirmands to come to UMYF in the COVE! Unless you’ve been raised in the Methodist church your whole life, you may not know what any of that means…and some of it will be a blur, even if you have. Shorthand and cool names are great, as long as you are in on their meaning! Churches are notorious for making this mistake. Even something like “30 Hour Famine” will need to be followed up with a clear explanation of the event!
2. Answer the WHY of Youth Ministry! Parents of youth are not looking for filler on their kids’ schedules. If anything, most of them have a hard time fitting everything in. If we don’t take time to explain why our time with their students is important, parents will relegate youth group activities to the bottom of the list (and who can blame them?). It is also not enough for us to say the “why” out loud; as Youth Leaders, we must work hard to make the most of the time we have with our students to support the claim. Honor your church families’ time well so that they see the importance of Youth Ministry without feeling over-burdened by one more thing on their calendar.
3. Educate and Support! This is one place where I failed my youth parents for a long time. I felt like I had little authority on youth because I was young and had no children of my own. Eventually, I got over myself and realized that I worked with teenagers every day and was a student of their behavior. Often times, parents are floating in uncharted territory (especially 1st time parents of teenagers). They are desperate for something to hold on to and we, as youth leaders, are more equipped than we realize. Send them a life preserver from time-to-time. Share what you know about the stages of adolescence. If you run across tools that you think would be helpful, share them. I started offering copies of driving and cell-phone contracts, handouts that shared tips for having “The Talk,” and other helpful documents at parent meetings. I would gather information from more authoritative sources to help offset that “what do I know” feeling. I was amazed at how many parents utilized those resources and were thankful to have them. Most importantly, we must remember that we are there to minister to parents, as well as youth.
So, as you plan your calendars and get together all of the information that you will be giving out at your kick-off events, don’t forget these three things. The majority of our students are still pretty dependent on their parents; because of this, it benefits us greatly to keep them in mind when launching into a new ministry year!