Parents into Partners: Strategy #1
Partnering with parents in your church often begins with your heart; before any strategy is put in place, there has to be a relational bridge between you and parents in your community if you hope to partner with them in ministering to their children. If the phrase “partnering with parents” makes you roll your eyes, you’re going to need to get your own heart into the right place before you try to launch a new partnering initiative.
People help who they like
In general, when they have a choice, people choose to spend time with people they like. Consider what it might do to your attendance numbers, or at least the frequency of a family’s attendance, if the volunteers and staff in your children’s ministry made the top of a family’s “favorite people” list.
Think back to your years on the playground as a child. If you had the choice to play a game with other kids, you probably would choose to be on a team with someone who was a good teammate, right? The last person kids on the playground want on their team is the child who goes around tripping everyone or the one who decides that they can win on their own and ignores the rest of the team. Friends, if you want to partner with parents, work hard to be someone who is fun to play alongside.
Think about the last time your family had a bad/unhappy/unfriendly waitress at a restaurant – most people, when given the chance, would try to get a different waitress the next time they went out. And, seriously friends, we have something better to offer than any waitress at any restaurant in your town – don’t let your attitude or friendliness get in the way of a family choosing to come back next weekend.
Leverage social media: be a person
Because I go out of my way to leverage social media, I know that some parents from my church (my pastor’s wife included) read this blog. With that said, I kind of feel like writing what I’m about to write is like walking out to take the garbage to the curb and realizing I forgot to change out of my pajamas. Just because there are moments of my life when I wear Guitar Hero shorts, my neighbors don’t need to see what goes on behind the scenes. However, because they are not my primary audience in this space, I’m going to share some thoughts on how I’ve helped them learn to like me over the last few years.
I work hard to be a face that families care about and one of the most effective ways I’ve found in helping families learn to like me is by leveraging The Facebook. My wife and I stay in constant dialogue about what we reveal via social media and, typically, transparency wins out over privacy. We often ask ourselves, “is this a part of the story of our family?” If it is, then we share it. If it’s something divisive (political views, posts of judgement, complaints about people in leadership) then we back off from posting those thoughts.
This week, for example, a young teacher at my son’s school told me that she’s been praying for my son and was thrilled to see the picture of his cast getting removed that I posted to instagram. This teacher went on to tell me, during a 50 second conversation, that this was the first thing she’d prayed for since someone she loved lost their battle with cancer three years ago. Families in our community are watching our story as it unfolds and are finding moments along the way where they relate to us and engage our story.
This is more than just making a space online for parents to see your church events (people engage with and relate to faces more often than logos) – it’s a place for families to get to know your face and your story in such a way that they begin to like you. It’s not being manipulative as long as you make sure that being authentic is a high value of yours.
Return phone calls and emails
This one is (mostly) for the youth pastors in the room. But I’ll let the children’s ministry folks in the room listen in. Parents will not partner with you if they cannot get a hold of you. Partnership is a two way street – if you send out weekly or monthly emails to families in your church, you better read and respond to emails that families send to you. If you want families to call you in times of need, you better return their phone calls when they call your office and leave a voicemail. Boundaries are important, don’t get me wrong. I often tell families that I don’t look at my phone between the hours of 6pm and 8pm every night because my family owns that time. Just keep in mind that families who cannot get a hold of you will be less likely to partner with you. It’s as simple as that.
If you hate The Facebook, or can’t stand listening to voicemail, there’s still an easy first step that you can take this weekend as you begin trying to partner with families. Smile. Often. I have a friend who, when she relaxes her face, makes a frown. It’s not because she’s upset – it’s just how her face works. I’ve watched other parents avoid conversations with her when she’s letting her kids play on the playground because they don’t want to engage the angry person. If you have a face that easily looks angry, stressed or sad, you may have to work harder at smiling when you see people on a Sunday morning (even though you’re tired, your rooms weren’t set up right, a child just threw up in the toddler room and the women’s toilet in the bathroom is clogged with purple playdough).
This doesn’t give you an excuse to be fake. I’ve had a hard couple weeks as a person and I’m willing to share that with people who ask how I’m doing. At the same time, I find joy in the ministry that I’m called to and I make it a point to share that joy with others. If people like seeing you, they’re more likely to talk to you. And, as I’ll write in a later post in this series, it’ll be hard to get parents to take the next step toward engaging in a partnership with you if they don’t talk to you.
So, smile this weekend. And give a parent in your ministry a high five.
This is part of a series of posts on serving families in our communities. To see the notes and slides that go with this series, visit: http://westcoastcm.com/2012/10/03/turning-parents-into-partners/