Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Best Way to Connect with Parents

How do you get a parent's attention?  It's one of the biggest challenges in building a vibrant family ministry.  In a recent workshop I led, I was sharing some of the take-home resources we use at my church when a woman in the crowd commented, "These tools are great, but how do I get my parents to actually use them?"

I totally understand where she's coming from.

21st century parents are busier than ever, and many of our efforts to support the family fall on deaf ears.

It's not that parents are trying to ignore the church.  It's just that there is only so much information they can process in a given day.

As a dad myself I can tell you that some weeks it's all my wife and I can do to keep up with the steady stream of information flowing from our kids' school and extracurricular activities.  Anything else becomes white noise, lost in the whirlwind of information rushing through our home.

And we are one of the least busy families I know.

So how can the church reach parents?.  How can we cast vision and provide tools that actually get used by the families in our ministry?

By taking advantage of strategic launch windows to build bridges between the church and the home.  

What are launch windows?  They are the seasons of opportunities when parents come into our orbit, looking for answers or help.

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc 
Let me explain.  If NASA is going to launch a probe to Mars, they don't just launch a ship any time they want.  They wait for an opportune moment, a launch window.  During the launch window Mars is closer to our orbit than at any other time.  That means we can connect with it using much less energy and effort than it would normally require.

The same thing is true for bridging the gap between the church and the home.  There are times when families come closer to our orbit.  That's when it's easiest to reach them.  

So what do these launch windows look like?

When do parents come to us looking for answers?  When are they confused or need help? When do we have the chance to draw alongside them, love them, serve them, give them direction and share a little vision?  When are they open and when do they need us most?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. When kids have questions parents don’t feel equipped to answer.  
In our church when kids start asking questions about salvation and baptism, parents come to us for help, so we created a special experience called KidSplash to help answer those questions. It's the best thing I've ever been a part of in Children's Ministry.  We've had over 2,000 kids and parents experience the message of John 3:16 together because we capitalized on meeting a real need for families.

2. When families are new.
First time guests are a huge opportunity for your ministry. When families are brand new, parents have to talk to us to get their kids checked in so they can go to service. That's a great time to serve and communicate value to the family. Make first time check-in as easy and simple as possible and slip in a little vision about how you want to partner with parents in their children's spiritual growth.

3. When families have pastoral care needs.
When families are in crisis, it's a great chance to show that you love them and are there to offer support. Hospital and funeral visits are huge, but so is walking with families through divorce and other major life crises.

For us we rely on our Life Group Leaders (leaders over small groups of kids) to be aware of what's going on in the lives of the kids in their groups and provide that personal touch that our staff could never make to hundreds of kids.

We also have recommended resources we point parents to during difficult seasons like these.

4. When parents have children with special needs.  
One of the most untapped opportunities in the church is ministering with families with special needs. This is an area we're really trying to figure out because our heart goes to out to families who hurting, tired and have found their children unwelcome or misunderstood because of developmental or healthy challenges.  Any effort you can make to serve, include and reach out to these families is a fantastic step to building bridges between church and home.  Ryan Frank led a fantastic breakout on special needs ministry at this year's D6 Conference.  You can check out my notes here

5. When parents are upset or have an issue with the Children's Ministry.
It's always fun when parents are angry or complaining about something going on in our ministry, right?  Well, actually, this could be one of the best seasons to build a bridge between their home and the church.  

This is your opportunity to listen to a parent, connect on a personal level and help them see that you share a common goal, their child falling in love with Jesus and following Him.  It's a chance to communicate vision and to invite them to work with you to resolve the issue and help their child grow in their faith.  

Okay, so those a few launch windows our team has discovered. How about you? Are there are situations you can think of when parents come into your orbit?

Here's my challenge to you. Pick one of these seasons of opportunity and think about how you can:
  • Serve families and provide real help.
  • Build relationships and trust. 
  • Cast vision about family discipleship and partnering with the church.
While you may not be able to get all of your parents using a Sunday School take-home sheet each week, I can promise you they will take advantage of whatever resources you offer for these special times when parents come looking to you for help.  

Each time that happens you build trust, credibility and relationship. Over time, that's what you'll need most to connect your church and the homes you serve.

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