Regardless of the size or style or cultural setting of your church, the issue of family is universal. –Joiner, Reggie Think Orange p. 229
One of the biggest evangelism efforts should be to reach out to all families in our communities. Everyone has a family, so family is a shared interest for everyone. If youth ministries were able to speak to the needs of the family there would be some amazing outreach potential. Student pastors are trained to train their students to evangelize their friends at school. In fact, I go to great lengths talking about the insane importance of evangelism in our youth ministries: Talking About Jesus, Persuading Teenagers About Christ, explaining the theory of Inside/Out Evangelism, and illustrating Strategies in Youth Outreach. Youth ministry evangelism is a great thing, but what if youth ministries widen their reach beyond students to all families in the community?
The church’s historical view of family:
– church was at the center of community
– family was central to the church
– families saw the church as their community
– Sunday school was taught by parents/grandparents and rarely attended by teenagers
– youth groups were lead by lay leaders and focused on fellowship
– discipleship was the primary task in the home
– church staff was limited to immediate and broad pastoral concerns
How youth ministry drifted away from the historical view of family:
– student ministries detached themselves from the church family
– tends to solely focus on making Christian families holier and better
– advocates for individualistic discipleship for its students
– promotes that “big” church is only for adults
– community doesn’t see church as primary influence or as a resource to families
How youth ministries can reach out to families in their community:
Encourage missional parenting—missional parenting means: 1) Jesus-loving parents love and care for students who don’t have great home situations, and 2) Jesus-loving parents love and care for other parents who do not attend the church. Sometimes Christian students are not living in Christian homes, which means that these students will need a Christian influence from many other Christian adults, in particular other parents. In my experience I always had a handful of amazing church families who really felt called to take in these students by: paying for their camp/event fees, providing hospitality toward them (open door policy to their home), giving them rides to and from church, praying with and for them, and befriending their parents.
Parents interact with other parents, which can lead to Christian parents influencing other unchurched parents to come check out church or understand what youth group is about. Honestly I think missional parenting is the biggest factor in reaching unchurched parents. The parents of your youth group students immediately become full-time missionaries!
“With the deconstruction of the modern sentiment of maternal love, a new, postmodern sentiment has emerged, one that might be called shared parenting.” David Elkind, Ties That Stress The New Family Imbalance, page 53
Host a parenting seminar at your church – Every parent in your community might need tools to be a better parent. So why not have a Christian therapist or respected Christian parents in your community come to your church and do a parenting seminar and invite the entire community? Possible seminar topics: commitment to one another, adequate time together, effective communication and conflict management, expression of appreciation and encouragement, find a shared spiritual life that gives meaning and purpose for the family. I have done this in the past and unchurched parents are way more open to coming to church when they are getting free parenting tools.
Communication – Bombard parents with communication. Parents are always wanting to be in the “know.” It is especially important to communicate with parents who don’t attend church themselves but who have students who do. Unchurched parents are immediately suspicious of and lacking trust for the youth pastor and the church’s youth ministry. Communicating what is happening in the youth ministry will (hopefully) help parents trust the youth pastor. In the past, I wrote quarterly parent newsletters to inform, equip and encourage parents. I made this parent newsletter as public as possible. I didn’t use much Christian jargon because I wanted the newsletter to appeal to all parents, not just parents who already attended our church.
Purchase parenting books in bulk and put them on your bookshelf – All parents will need books on how to parent through their teen’s life stages. Great books to recommend to families on parenting: Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, Chap Clark Parenting Teens in a Myspace World, and Michael Bradley Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind. I bought all these books in bulk to pass on when a parent came to me with their teenage and family problems. I could simply listen and pray with them, and then provide them a free resource that I knew and trusted.
Do family events in your community that are sponsored by church – I had great success when the youth ministry partnered with other church ministries to do family based events. For example, try a beach BBQ, a church picnic, camping, serving events, bowling nights, attend a pro baseball game or an all family church rummage sale.
Live out a theological understanding of incarnational witness and evangelism – Jesus engaged in relationships with no expectations. He was the light to the lost. Therefore youth pastors need to be aware “other” parents are watching your every move when you are in public, so don’t be a jerk. Emulate Jesus to the best of your ability. Reach out to have a relationship with parents even if they don’t want it. Parents need to know you care and want to listen to their needs and concerns. My point: Be the Kingdom wherever you go. Befriend, love and serve all families.
Questions youth ministries need to think about:
(1) How does a youth pastor come alongside a student’s parent when they (parents) don’t want anything to do with the gospel?
(2) What educational topics do parents need to be informed about?
(3) What do we do when parents don’t see the added value of youth ministries partnering with them?
(4) What are other ways youth ministry can serve the local families in the community?
(5) How do we serve the unconventional families in our community?