Sunday School Parent Connections That Work
By Terrin S. Opel
It’s a children’s minister’s fantasy: Every parent involved in your ministry. You hear weekly, firsthand reports about kids’ strides in their faith. Parents have an active role in nourishing their kids’ faith development at home, and they feel connected to and supported by your ministry. They know what’s happening when—and most importantly—why it’s all happening.
Reality is probably a little different, though. Your connection to parents may be tenuous. You may wonder—often—what it would take to build a powerful, lasting connection with parents that’ll ultimately enhance kids’ faith development.
It’s an age-old ministry question: How can we effectively reach parents and connect with them? Children’s Ministry Magazine asked children’s ministers like you from across the country to share their most successful parent connection techniques. Here are their recommendations for effectively connecting parents, your ministry, and kids’ faith growth.
Open Lines Of Communication
Parents love to know what’s happening and what’s coming in their kids’ ministries. Newsletters-effectively written and well designed—are a great way to get the word out. Lynne McLaughlin and Lisa Udell at Thornapple Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, created the Parent Connection newsletter to increase and man-age communication with parents.
“The newsletter was born out of wanting to communicate better with parents what was going on, what their kids were learning… and also to give them resources they could use at home,” says McLaughlin. “We were getting questions about what we do or why, so the newsletter provided a forum for communicating that.”
Since the newsletter began, McLaughlin and Udell say they’ve seen a marked increase in parents who are willing to assist in the ministry and who take an interest in what’s happening. They also frequently get follow-up questions about something that appears in try newsletter, which leads to more opportunities to speak one-to-one with interested parents.
Most parents would dialogue with their kids about faith—if they knew what to talk about. You can equip parents to initiate these important conversations by following the example of Bill Walton, family pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Walton has created Road Talk, a kit for families that includes worship CDs, interactive activities, and parent tips. Road Talk translates into car conversations, soccer field chatter, and grocery store banter where families talk about God.
Support Parent-Child Relationships
“We work hard to hand the ministry of family back to the parents,” says Greg Braly, children’s and family pastor of New Hope Church in New Hope, Minnesota. “We create connection points to empower the parents to take a leadership role in their child’s life.”
Braly’s ministry sponsors successful relationship-building events for parents and children. One of the most popular is the father-daughter relationship-building experience where dads and daughters build memories by eating together and then visiting several different stations such as a photo booth, prayer walk, ballroom dancing, picture frame-making, and scrap booking.
For more details about Braly’s father-daughter event, go to www.childrensministry.com and click on Web Extras.
Become An Information Hub
Coleen Bevan, pastor of children’s ministry at Canyon View Christian Fellowship in San Diego, California, says a parent information booth has been one of her ministry’s most effective tools for connecting with parents.
“Parent connection techniques are strategies to bring parents and children’s ministry together with the purpose of building a strong faith in children,” says Bevan. “Our information booth is up each weekend; it’s where we communicate to parents about all of our events. All current events are announced during the service, and the pastor urges parents to visit the booth for further information and to register. This is a great way to connect with our leaders and parents.”
The booth is located so new parents can find t easily, and volunteers personally usher them .o their children’s classrooms to introduce them o the teachers.
“We’re expanding the booth to support families, too,” says Bevan. “We’re adding parenting helps information, devotion books, parenting books, and `Faith Home’ brochures (Cokesbury) hat are designed to support families.”
Create A Parent Advisory Board
Lori Aadsen, associate director of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) District and Congregational Services, advises ministries to create a parent advisory board.
“The board should meet quarterly to gain input on Sunday school, midweek, family events, and nursery programs,” says Aadsen.
This shared-influence approach to your ministry will not only boost parent involvement, but it will also generate broader support and interest in what’s happening in your ministry.
Put Parents And Children To Work
Michelle Anthony, pastor of family ministry at Rock Harbor church in Costa Mesa, California, organized a family mission trip to the Dominican Republic. “I saw firsthand the impact on families as they prepared for the mission trip and then experienced how it felt to serve together as a family,” says Anthony.
Mission experiences let family members see each other through a new lens while teaching them the value of service. These experiences also link parents to your ministry and elevate its value in their eyes.
As a former family ministry pas-or, Ruth Pape of Colorado Springs, Colorado, says she was constantly looking for ways to equip parents.
“We offered parenting semi-ears and annual parenting conferences, but ultimately our most important equipping tool was what we used every day: our curriculum,” says Pape. “We chose a curriculum, Faith Weaver (Group), with an intentional parent-connect tool that families could take home each week, and practical how-to experiences to do together that were fun and easy. I’m encouraged to see churches across the country intentionally teaching children and equipping parents on a week-by-week basis. The tools we give to parents need to be easy to do, with fun activities and experiences that are relevant to everyday family life.”
Let Families Minister Together
“Every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, my family has signed up to serve together in the 3- and 4-year-old class,” says Pape. “What better way to spend a Christmas Eve than as a family, giving to other families? My kids have counseled at numerous day camps and served countless weekends in elementary classrooms. And it gives me no greater joy than to be `Jeremy’s mom’ or `Matt’s mom’ or `Tim’s mom’—because my boys have had an impact on the kids they’ve served. There’s no greater legacy than to see your children serving Jesus because of what you’ve experienced serving the church together. Why not offer these kinds of opportunities to the families in your ministry?”
Make Family Time A Priority
The sky is the limit when it comes to creating fun and meaningful family experiences. Measure your events against this filter: Will this opportunity create a meaningful experience for the entire family?
Craig Swenson at Prince of Peace Lutheran in Burnsville, Minnesota, created a program called FamFest, where intentional ministry happens across three generations. Part of FamFest was W.O.W.–Worship on Wednesday Nights—for the entire family. Families ate a meal together and worshipped together. Then small groups of families or households met to read the Bible and apply what they learned to everyday life through fun, interactive activities.
“One of the most important things your church can do for parents is to create joyful experiences that celebrate families as they navigate each new stage in their children’s lives,” says former family ministry pastor Ruth Pape. Here are celebrations she’s used successfully to connect with parents.
Prepare For Birth days.
Before a child is born, begin a supportive partnership with parents. Provide parents-to-be with opportunities to connect with other young couples. Offer pre-birth counseling and seminars to help new parents learn what it’ll mean to be responsible for shaping the spiritual growth of a child. Celebrate when babies are born. Offer support pairing new parents with veteran parents they c for advice and support.
Dedications, baptisms, confirmations, First Communions—all are important times for churches to celebrate with families. Celebration encourages parents in their roles as their children’s spiritual mentors and highlights their successes.
Safeguard Family Time.
Be careful of creating programs for the sake programs. Many churl are reversing course are attempting to simplify and reduce the number programs they offer to give families the gift of time. Decide what’s best for your location, church culture, and families’ needs.
Create parent education opportunities for parents of different age children to meet, encourage one other, and learn together. Sponsoring programs such as MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Moms In Touch is an excellent way to encourage parents along the way.
Promote Children’s Leadership.
Children aren’t the church of tomorrow; they’re the church of today. Model the value that Jesus placed on children by finding meaningful ways to include them in every aspect of church life, including worship services. Weave children’s prayers, songs, and messages into family worship experiences.
“The two most meaningful worship services I attended last year were at Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, California, and Copper Hills Community Church in Glendale, Arizona, where the children and youth led worship,” says Pape. “The kids prayed, spoke, and were an integral part of the service. Neither of these services was perfect, nor were they performance-oriented. But they were heartfelt expressions from Jesus’ youngest followers. Imagine how families and households could be trans-formed by witnessing this kind of value placed on children and youth.”
This article “Parent Connections That Work” written by an Terrin S. Opel is excerpted from Children’s Ministry a 2007 November/December edition.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.