By Rebecca Jacobson
Parents can have incredible influence in the growth and development of their kid. However, mounting evidence reveals that that role of influencer is often neglected, especially when it comes to a kid’s faith development. In response, many congregations are now getting intentional about empowering parents and reestablishing their position as their child’s primary spiritual influence.
Our church (North Haven Church in N. St. Paul, MN) is on that journey. When we took an inside look we discovered parents desperate to raise Godly children, but also parents who felt ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the challenge. Our leadership team set out to build a ministry specifically targeted to equipping these parents. It’s a work in progress, but we have already discovered a couple key components which shape an effective parent ministry.
1. Make it Good.
You’re more likely to find Big Foot riding a unicorn holding a four-leaf clover than you are to find a parent with abundant free time. Between school, sports, fine arts, volunteering and other activities good parents should have their kids involved in, free time is a highly coveted. This means that whatever training you present needs to be worthy of their time. Gone are the days of throwing out a few cookies and barely drinkable church coffee. The parents of your students are sacrificing to be at your event—make sure it’s worth it. When we began our first parenting seminars we brought in nationally known speakers for topical seminars. By watching their speaking schedule and booking them while they were already in town, we were able to bring them in on a small budget. We also looked to our local Universities for professors willing to share their given discipline. Parents deserve more than a thrown together meeting. Where you spend the most time and energy will reveal your priorities—it’s time to prioritize parents.
2. Make it Easy
We’ve established that parents don’t have time, so if they’re going to sacrifice to attend, make that sacrifice as painless as possible. What this meant for us was free childcare, free dinner, and convenient session times that fit nicely between getting off of work and tucking the kids in. We also chose times where parents would already be at church- Sunday mornings, during mid-week programs, convenient times when their kids were already occupied. Envision all the road-blocks that may exist and brainstorm ways to remove them from the picture. This may require sacrifices on the church. Our student ministries budget took a severe cut the year we started parent investment. It costs money to provide things for free, but we decided our parents are worth it. We truly believe that parents are the number one spiritual influence of students, and that conviction needs to be reflected in our budget. We prioritized parent investment above newer technology, game nights, even scholarships because we believe equipping parents really matters.
3. Make it Practical
Just about every parent I’ve talked with feels like a failure. They are bombarded with daily reminders of all the ways they are falling short—the things they feed their kids, the way they spend their time, how many Bible verses their kids have memorized—how many Bible verses they have memorized. Parents are well aware of their short comings as spiritual leaders. Unfortunately, too many authors and leaders try to meet this need by providing 64 steps to having a new, transformed child by Monday. But spiritual formation doesn’t happen that way. It happens as parents move in close to their child, and utilize teachable moments to present what an authentic Jesus-kind of life looks like. Use your sacred teaching moments with parents to remind them, inspire them and motivate them to reclaim their role as a spiritual influencer. Remind them that God believed in them enough to gift them with children and God has promised to partner with them in the nurturing process. We don’t need more parents who feel like failures—we need parents who feel empowered and equipped to make an eternal difference in the lives of their kids. Ask parents for suggestions, be active in uncovering the real needs they are wrestling with and then present resources to meet those needs. Instead of overwhelming them, aim to empower and encourage them. In fact, our content flows primarily out of our interaction with parents. They’ve led us to delve into topics like communication, social media, and intentionality in parenting.
As ministry leaders we have a unique opportunity to help parents realize their influence. We have the honor and privilege of fighting for families and the spiritual development of the next generation. Have you had success with parent ministries? Please share what’s worked well for you!
Rebecca Jacobson, I have been in student ministries for six years, currently serving as Director of Student Ministries at North Haven Church in N. St. Paul, MN. I have a degree in Communication Studies from Bethel University and I am finishing up an M.A. In Christian Education specializing in Youth Leadership. Aside from my awesome students, I love spending my time with my amazing husband, quirky dog Max and feeding my Diet Coke Addiction