If the apostle Paul were a youth worker, I'm sure the thorn in his flesh would be uninvolved parents. A universal frustration of youth workers is parents who could benefit the most by being involved in the fundraising, the camps, the mission trips or the parenting seminars, but aren't. Frustrating? Absolutely! Typically, the students of these uninvolved parents are the ones who are "high maintenance" during youth group.
So what can we as youth workers do to connect with parents who don't seem to want to connect with us?
1. Be Available
Be available when unconnected parents call with a crisis in their family. Frequently, parents who won't go to church will call a youth worker when their teen or family has trouble. You don't have to "fix" their problems, but it would be helpful to have a printed list of Christian counseling referrals and crisis intervention programs within reach. Perhaps you could think of another parent in your group who has struggled with a similar problem who could serve as a wise referral. Thinking ahead to have these types of resources will help you build a bridge to parents when they need you most. You can also plan ahead by asking families to serve as referrals.
The important principle is to make sure you communicate that you care about them and their teen. Follow up with a note or phone call to be sure they were able to get the help they needed. You can't lose when you care about the unconnected parents.
2. Write Letters
When the school year ends this spring, write a letter thanking parents for the opportunity to spend time with their teen. Always include a compliment of their son or daughter. Some students will be harder than others to compliment, but it's important that parents hear positive comments about their kids.
This letter may surprise parents who aren't involved. They likely don't have a clue what their teen does every Wednesday night at church. By writing this letter, you'll make a connection between yourself and an uninvolved parent. In this letter, be sure to give them your phone number, e-mail address and a calendar of upcoming events. Also use this letter to invite them to church.
3. Meet and Greet
Be sure you and some of your volunteers are there to meet and greet parents when they drop students off at your youth programs. Also, be there to say good-bye when they come back to pick them up at the end of the night. This may seem like a small idea, but it will have big results. You'll be amazed at what you can learn about a family in a few moments of interaction. As always, take this time to be encouraging about their student. Some parents may not be too excited to talk, but be persistent. When you become familiar to them over time, they'll warm up to you.
Persistence in this area will let them know you're interested in them and their family. If they call the church office for help, you'll be glad you made this entry-level contact with parents. Encourage all of your youth workers to do this.
Realize that uninvolved parents aren't necessarily apathetic parents, possibly just parents who have no spiritual interest. Because of this, we've got to view this negative as a positive opportunity for evangelism. Instruct your leadership team to be on the lookout this year for these parents, and focus on connecting with the disconnected. If you reach one family with the good news of Jesus Christ, all your effort will be worth it.