Many of the youth ministry leaders that I know often lament the lack of parental involvement in their ministry programs. They openly question why parents don’t bring their kids to Mass and they are quick to blame parents for the struggling state of ministry in the Church. After all, the parents are supposed to be the primary catechists of their own children.
The blame is well deserved. Our current generation of young Catholics is leaving the Church in droves. 1 in 10 Americans is a former Catholic. Not only that, but those leaving the Church are not joining another religion. They simply stop attending church or identifying with religion all together. The fastest growing religion among millennials is, “none,” and for those who declare themselves as, “none,” 80% will have left the Church by their 23rd birthday.
Study after study reveals that the greatest determining factor for a young person’ religion is the faith of their parents. If the parents don’t live the faith in their home, the teenager has a very small chance of practicing a religion when they are an adult.
How do we get parents more engaged in the faith development of their own teenager?
Frequently, I’ll hear youth ministry leaders recommend that parents get more involved in youth ministry. The problem is that they usually fall short on suggestions for execution. The most common suggestions that I hear are recommendations that parents should come to a catechetical program, chaperone a trip, or join a “clean-up crew,” or bake for the ministry. When I hear these suggestions it feels like I have been punched in the stomach.
None of those suggestions support the parent in their primary vocation.
Don’t get me wrong, I volunteer in my parish community and I understand that some of these ministry roles are necessary in order to run a ministry. But this is not the way to get parents involved in discipleship with their own teenager. Parents are overburdened as it is. We do a disservice to them by asking them to take on more burden in order to support a ministry.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are three simple suggestions to re-engage parents into the discipleship of their own teenager.
Invite a parent out for coffee.
The best way to re-engage a parent is one-to-one communication. Buy someone a cup of coffee and you will be surprised how quickly they get on board with a ministry. Parents are over-worked, their schedules are too busy, they are overwhelmed with responsibility and many feel unsupported in their day-to-day struggles in life. Many parents have struggling marriages, they may feel disconnected from their Church and they are wrestling with their own sinfulness and failures in life.
A cup of coffee demonstrates that you care. This little measure of love can go a long way in building bridges to the parenting community. Invite a parent to join you one-on-one for coffee and speak with them about their life and their teenager.
Ask the question, “What would make you feel supported?”
I am a parent of three special needs kids. I don’t have time to support programs. My time is already burdened enough as it is. When a youth minister asks parents to cook or bake food for a ministry, most parents groan on the inside. Parents generally don’t have time for this.
The goal of engaging parents into a ministry is to help the parents feel supported in their primary vocation. It is not for the parents to support the ministry.
I always want to know what a parent needs in order to feel like their Church supports them.
Wouldn’t it be great if ministries found parishioners that didn’t have time to clean their house and then they took teenagers that needed service hours and put them to work supporting moms and dads in these projects? Or they put together baby-sitting so that moms and dads could get out on a date.
Youth Ministry has long lost the concept of supporting parents. If we know what a parent needs we are more likely to find solutions to meet those needs.
Make the youth ministry schedule “Family Friendly.”
Most youth ministry happens on the weekends or on evenings. Many families are only together on the weekends or in the evenings. This means that youth ministry scheduling is frequently competing with the family for time. Families are already fighting for time between school and other activities.
I hate seeing youth ministries that have activities scheduled every day of the week or youth ministries that have excessive requirements for sacramental preparation. These ministries may be hurting families by asking too much of their time. It is true that families need to prioritize Church and faith formation, but the Church also has a responsibility to be good stewards of the time that families give. We cannot expect parents to prioritize parish ministry if they see it as a burden on their family. Parents must always see youth ministry as a support to the efforts of their primary vocation.
Take a parent out for coffee. Ask the parent, “what would make you feel supported?” Schedule ministry in a manner that supports the family. These are three simple strategies that any youth ministry can quickly boost the parent engagement in the youth ministry.