We would all agree that parents and the church play a significant role in the spiritual development of the next generation. Scripture is clear that the parents are the primary spiritual developers of their children. It is also clear that the body of Christ has a biblical mandate to partner with parents. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 reminds us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your heart. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
The question is not should we partner with parents; the real question is what is the most effective way we can partner with parents to build foundations of faith in the lives of the next generation. A study in the 2009 January/February edition of Children’s Ministry Magazine helps shed some light on what parents are looking for from the church when it comes to raising spiritually alert children. Based on the study, parents are looking to the church to partner with them in three primary areas: take-home handouts, feedback, and training. I would like to highlight some of the top ways our churches can partner with parents.
First of all, the study found that 54% of parents find take-home sheets to be a helpful way to partner with them. The article went further and found that only 36% of parents actually use these handouts at home. Which explains why you spend the majority of your time recycling these handouts at the end of each service. To be effective, we need to close the gap between what parents perceive to be a helpful tool and the reality of them actually using it.
A proven strategy to close the gap is what I call “The Drive Home”. It is simply three open ended questions that parents can ask their kids on the drive home to start a spiritual conversation about the days lesson. You can simply add these three questions to the back of your existing take-home sheet. By maximizing the “drive home”, parents no longer have to settle for the pat answer of “Jesus” when asking their children about what they learned at church. Another benefit is that you’ll begin to see your take-home sheets leave your building and, at the very least, make it to the minivan.
Secondly, the study found that 76% of parents are looking to the church for email communication and 35% are looking for face-to-face conversations. Children’s Ministry Magazine also discovered that Web sites and snail mail are parents’ least favorite forms of communication. This tells me is that parents are looking for feedback about the spiritual development of their children, not simply one-way communication about what’s happening in our next gen ministries. In other words, parents want to know how their kids are doing, not what they are doing.
There are two great ways to let parents know how their kids are doing in their spiritual development. One is to maximize your drop-off & pick-up times. Train & equip your volunteers to intentionally use drop-off and pick-up times to provide parents with specific feedback about their child’s spiritual growth. Don’t just tell the parents what their children did, also tell them how their kids are growing. A second way to inform parents on how their children are growing is to share stories of life change. Become a collector of stories. Intentionally collect stories from volunteers about specific children so you can include those stories in emails, text messages, and Facebook messages to their parents.
Finally, the study discovered that parents are not yet ready to fully embrace a “home-centered, church supported” philosophy of family ministry. This shows me that parents need the church to proved training so they are more equipped to be the primary faith-developers for their children. As a matter of fact, Children’s Ministry Magazine found that less then 40% of the churches surveyed use parent training seminars and workshops to partner with parents.
I recommend equipping parents to be the spiritual leaders in their homes with the three-pronged approach of sermon series, workshops, and small groups. With the help of our Senior Pastor, we spend 4-6 weeks a year teaching Biblical principles about parenting in our main auditorium. We also provide at least one parenting seminar on our campus that is specifically geared for parents of preschoolers & children. Finally, we team up with our adult discipleship team to provide a 10-13 week small group study for parents that explores a Biblical foundation for parenting.
While you may not be able to implement these specific strategies, I believe that our family ministries must take the initiative and help equip parents to be the godly spiritual leaders that they desire to be.