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Late Pickup: How to Handle Tardy Parents at Ministry Events

late pickup

I’ve been on a mission to help youth workers deal with their biggest frustrations. Usually, this means the big stuff: fundraisers, volunteers, burnout, time management, and so on. But when I ask about frustrations, sometimes youth leaders say unexpected things. And lately, they’ve all been saying the same thing over and over: late pickup by parents.

“It drives me nuts when I get to the end of a very long Sunday and a parent is an hour late to pick up their kid!”

First things first: It’s totally okay to feel frustrated by this. I’ve heard we should celebrate late pickup because it’s extra time to connect with and minister to a student. When you put it that way, it seems almost sinful to be frustrated when a parent is 45 minutes late.

But those 45 minutes might mean you don’t get home in time to tuck in your own kids. It might mean you’re now late for whatever’s next on your schedule.

Our ministry has very clear child-protection guidelines. I’m not supposed to be alone in the building with a teenager. So if just one student is waiting on a ride, I’m either grabbing a volunteer to make them hang around with me…or I’m waiting in a compromised situation.

That was reason enough for our church to address the problem of late pickup. So imagine my surprise when I learned the primary problem was me.

Why late pickup was kind of my fault

Imagine yourself in this scenario: It’s 8:45 p.m. Youth group ended at 8. Dylan’s mom finally rolls into the parking lot. She is so apologetic. “I am so sorry,” she says.

What do you say next?

Here were my typical lines:

  • “Oh, it’s no problem. Have a great night.”
  • “That’s okay. We had a good time hanging out and playing Exploding Kittens.”
  • “Don’t worry about it. I’m glad I had the time to get to know Dylan a little better.”

I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to say, right? The church is a grace-filled organization. Plus, it’s not like you can just start ranting:

You know what? You should feel sorry! Because of YOU I missed bedtime with my kids. Because of YOU I’m going to have to pick up fast food on the way home because I missed dinner. And when the inevitable effects of all that processed junk finally catch up with me, I’ll send YOU my medical bills.

Because we know grace, and because we’re kind people, we tend to brush off the need for an apology. But here’s the problem with late pickup:

If we tell parents that late pickup is okay, then they’ll pick their kids up late.

That’s why, before you implement any other strategies, you must do something else first. Find a polite, grace-filled way to tell parents to pick up their kids on time from now on.

Late Pickup: 4 (Easier) Ways to Get Kids Home on Time

1. End your youth programs on time.

Here’s why: If your program regularly runs late, parents will start showing up late. It’s hard to be upset with a parent who doesn’t show up at 8 if the last three times he showed up at 8, he sat in the parking lot and waited.

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Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes at Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations—things like leading volunteers, managing money, and communicating effectively. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.