How to Engage Parents/Carers?
Some of us reading this might be Children, Youth or Family’s workers. You know, the usual catch it all churches employ, thinking that it’s really a dally to engage what amounts to probably 60-80% of the population (depending where one draws the line with families). In these roles we are always thinking about how to engage families, especially parents and carers. But no matter what we do in church sometimes we will ask ourselves how we can engage them.
“Parents and families are the single most important influence in the lives of young people. Good parenting is crucial to children and young people’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development”. We all know that. This means this is not just a work need, a helpful support of our youth work or a ‘good thing to do’. It is essential. We want to engage young people meaningfully and with a lasting impact.
Look at this ladder of participation with me:
Both young people and their parents/carers want to be in the top third of the ladder. Sadly, a lot of the work government and sometimes churches have been doing the last 15 years could be firmly placed in the last two thirds.
Pause for thought: Where would most of our church’s programs fall in this ladder? Why?
Now you probably agree that it would be good to engage parents and carers, but you ask “How???”. I will suggest a few ideas that I have seen work in other churches.
The Department of Education says: “Parenting teenagers requires a fine balancing act of encouraging independence whilst maintaining authority. The teenage years can represent a complex transition period and parents may need to adapt to new challenges as their relationship with their children changes… Many parents of teenagers say that they find it harder to cope during these years and would welcome additional assistance, including advice on issues which arise in the teenage years“ Anyone who is a parent or who knows parents will agree with this. Young people have so much going on and we are most likely not experts on a lot of these changes/issues.
You’ll say that you are not an expert on many of these things either but that’s okay. If we think back to our ladder above, we can see that we want to partner, empower parents (and youth) and make them feel in control. The strength of being a part of a national church network is that you have access to so many resources. You will have some experts (doctors, youth workers, social workers, teachers, nursery workers …) in your congregation and it’s good to draw on their expertise but you can also ask the Diocese and other churches for help. Maybe… and this might be a crazy idea… you could even ask one of the other churches in your town, village or city and partner with them to run parenting classes. These could be How to sessions, special topic/interest events or seminars moving around the different churches, village hall or other ‘neutral’ places. This will empower parents and carers but also lets them engage on their initiative and in the place they want to.
That means we ticked off nearly all the upper two thirds of our ladder. The last thing that helps with empowerment and helps you deliver what people need is ‘consultation’. Ask the parents and carers to say what they need and give them accessible ways to do so. By this you move it from tokenism to actual empowerment. I am talking easy, accessible platforms like a physical suggestion box in a public place (in a village shop maybe?) and a way to do it online (e.g. Freshdesk or just an email address).
So that’s my first tip, use parent’s natural desire to understand their children and to be able to help them. I have seen the relationship this builds lead to long term engagement in a few churches. This works with parents who profess faith and those that don’t.
The second tip is similar but more geared to the ‘expertise’ of churches. For the parents that already have some kind of faith; help them to support their children in their journey of faith exploration. This will be good for them but also extremely valuable for your church and the young people that engage with it.
Look at the table below:
As you give parents tips and ideas to engage their children and as you give them opportunities to explore faith together in church you build confidence. It’s like when you learn driving. At first you don’t think you could ever do it and you don’t know what it entails or the best way to go about reversing. After a while you realise that it’s not that hard and with this and exposure comes confidence (except for reversing, I am never that keen on it).
As you give parents opportunity to explore faith for themselves (but targeted at them) and as you put on special parent and parent & children events you will see the confidence grow. It will also become a self-perpetuating thing as most parents don’t want to stop at 30% or even at 50% but want to keep learning, keep sharing and keep praying. I’d suggest some parent prayer meetings (maybe starting around exam time), some daddy and daughter days, dads and lads weekend activities, pamper parties, family Bible studies etc. The opportunities are endless.
Pause for thought: Where could you actively encourage families/parents to grow together?
I will stop there. I have more ideas but these will come in a different blog post more about resources and practical ideas and plans.
For the moment, I am overjoyed that you are interested to work with the whole family and my main suggestion is that you start with prayer. God knows the best plan. He will tell you.
God bless you
 Pugh, DeAth & Smith, 1994
 Department of Education, Positive for Youth, 2011
 Care for the Family; Faith in our Families Report, 2017, p.18