Earlier in my life, I worked as an editor for a group of local newspapers. I was a young man, just a few years out of college, itching to use my journalism degree and unleash my skills on the world. But like all young people, I had much to learn (and still do!), especially in the ways of interpersonal communication.
After a miscommunication with my publisher that resulted in an important message not getting to my reporters, I was called to his office for a chat that I’ll never forget.
“Adam, this might be the greatest lesson you’ll ever learn in communication,” he told me. “It is always better to err on the side of over-communication. Never assume people know what you are thinking.”
The message was simple, but profound. If there is someone that you need to relay a message to, never assume they understand it without you communicating it.
Since that day, I’ve taken those wise words and have tried to apply them to not only my personal and professional life, but also to my work in ministry. As a youth leader for more than two decades now, I’ve learned that interpersonal communication — the art of exchanging information so that all parties are on the same page — is crucially important. Without healthy communication lines between your ministry and your students’ parents, it’s likely your efforts will suffer as a result.
So, along that vein, here are three strategies that you can implement to improve communication between your ministry and the parents of the students you minister to.
1. Set clear expectations and be consistent
To be a good communicator in a youth ministry’s organizational setting means that your students and their parents know what is expected of them, and the message is clear so that if there is a question, an answer can be provided quickly and easily.
A great way to achieve this is to create a document that outlines your ministry, what you stand for doctrinally, and guidelines that students are expected to follow. This document can then be referenced by all parties whenever questions or issues arise.
Now, it must be stated — every ministry is different, so there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution to this, and it takes time to craft a working document that is suitable for your specific group, but it’s worth it if it means better communication with your parents.
2. Never assume your parents know what’s going on
One of the more frustrating situations you’ll encounter as a youth leader is that when an event approaches, you’ll hear from a parent, “I never heard about that.” Sometimes, things slip through the cracks.
When it comes to informing parents, always assume they are hearing your announcement for the first time. Repeat announcements early and often. Make sure they are hearing the information directly from you and your team, because often, relying on your students to relay the information results in a “telephone game” that could alter the intended message.
3. Utilize every communication avenue you have at your disposal
Communication avenues are always changing. While more “analog” methods of exchanging information (i.e. mailers, flyers, etc.) have their place, the future of communication is in the digital realm. Are your parents using social media? Meet them there. Create a private Facebook group for your ministry’s parents. Create a Facebook chat group or a group text to send reminders often. All of these avenues can be a great way to connect with your parents.
If you and your leaders aren’t ready to dive into the digital arena just yet, there are still plenty of ways to communicate your message to parents. Talk to parents face-to-face before and after your meetings, set up a youth group informational table at church and post in public places in your community (post offices, libraries, and community centers often have public bulletin boards). These methods should help create positive word of mouth about your ministry, as well!
At the end of the day, communicating effectively means a little extra time and effort, but it’s a small price to pay to get leaders, students, and their parents on the same page.
Adam Minor is the Chief Editor for Word of Life Youth Ministries. He has more than 20 years of experience as an Olympians leader at his home church. He and his wife, Sarah, have two young children and live in northeastern Connecticut.