Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk about the big ideas of kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week, Allyson Evans, NextGen pastor at Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to discuss creative ways for ministry leaders to engage parents.
It’s the burning, challenging question for every ministry leader: Are parents even listening? How do we engage them?
We’ve recruited an expert to help us unpack this big topic!
Ally originally thought God was calling her into ministry in the public schools—but quickly moved to a role coordinating volunteers at Life.Church. She’s now over NextGen ministries. Life.Church has just announced its 35th location in its 11th state.
She’s loves partnering with other churches as the Church.
Gina recalls being in the nursery room with Ally in the early days of Life.Church. Ally looks at a sweet baby being handed over and said, “Look at those baby toes! I just want to eat them up!” The mom stared at her and said, “We don’t do that.”
Gina: Such a meaningful moment. I think that’s where Ally’s ability to connect with parents sparked.
Mike: We all agree that no one has more potential to influence the heart of a child than a parent. The best thing we can do as ministry leaders is to find ways that we can connect with, equip and partner with parents.
Some leaders probably feel like they’re doing everything, but still can’t get parents to engage. It’s frustrating. Is it even worth my time?
I have yet to meet a parent who has held their newborn child and said, “I can’t wait to screw up this child’s life.” Every parent intuitively wants to be a good parent, and they’re looking for help to do that.
1. What are practical ways we can get parents on board with what we are doing as a ministry, even if they may not want to listen right away?
Ally: For years, our strategy was “let me tell you what we’re doing here at church. Here’s what we did this week. Here’s a Bible lesson for home. Here’s a teaching point. Here’s a song.”
All of those things are great. It is important to give parents resources to support what you did during the hour.
But for years, all the print pieces and videos we created simply weren’t engaging with parents.
The truth is that what we’re teaching this week in church is probably not what a parent is struggling with at home this week. They’re appreciative of the materials. But they’re asking: How do I deal with another slammed door and another eye roll?
At Life.Church, we’re trying to figure out how to do both.
How can I communicate in a way that causes parents to listen? – is actually the wrong question.
We should be asking: How can I draw out communication from a parent so that WE will listen?
We can create lots of metrics and goals to measure around how many clicks we get on a video or how many people brought back a challenge card. But the real challenge is: How can we help our volunteers be better at listening to parents, and equip them with the opportunity to do so? It’s really messy.
A parent may not be ready to talk, but they still need to know that the church is there. That someone is willing to listen. How do we posture ourselves so that we are the first phone call [a parent in crisis makes]?
Gina: In our ministries, we want our kids to be seen. We get down eye to eye and talk to them. We know their name. It’s the same thing with parents. Parents want to be seen, too.
Please don’t judge me as a parent based on the actions of my kids. They are independent of me. I desperately want them to make great decisions, but sometimes they don’t. I want someone to believe enough in me to know that [their actions are] not the sum of my parenting or who I am. See me.
As a ministry leader, I’m not going to keep talking at you. I am going to engage you in a conversation and ask some questions. What are your needs and how can I see you right now?
Mike: I love that you flipped that question. In ministry, we get into checking boxes. Sunday morning materials are not the number one need of a parent.
2. Practically, how can we pause and listen to what a parent is saying?
Ally: Our leaders are sacrificing their time and energy in order to lead kids and students. It takes a lot of spiritual and emotional energy. Our leaders are already stretched. How can we continue to equip them with opportunities to get in front of parents long enough to win their trust?
When a small group leader does activities with kids outside of Sunday morning, that leader earns trust with parents. It’s a time game. Keep investing in the relationships with the kids and those kids will mention you at home as a trusted person. You win the parents as you focus on the kids.
In the hurry of recruiting volunteers, we aren’t super clear with them about the investment that they’ll be making – because we don’t want to scare them off.
I wish I could give you three easy steps – but I can’t.
It is all about relationships: kids and parents.
Gina: For small group leaders, it’s the easiest jump just to introduce yourself. Does the parent know your name? Introduce yourself. Then a great question: Is there anything you’d love for me to know about your kid? Just the fact that you asked – the goes a long way.
Mike: Then it’s going one step beyond. The greatest gift we can give a parent in our community is someone who is for their kid. That’s the role of a small group leader.
Now that we’ve shown we’re here for your kid, what about you, mom/dad? What are some things that we could help you with that you’re struggling with at home.
Ally: We started a private Life.Church parents Facebook group. All we had to do is set it up and watch parents interact. They pray for each other and recommend resources. It’s neat watching them build community. I’m always fishing in that Facebook group for what the felt needs are.
Now we’ve started the LC Parents Podcast. We take what’s bubbling up on the Facebook group and talk about it with a guest. Tik Tok, Fortnite, body positivity – the real felt needs. It’s a tiny step, it’s not the relationship piece, but they know the Church is for their family.
Kellen: When kids see you interact in a friendly manner with the parent, it opens up a gate for them to trust you more, because they see mom and dad trust you. Also, when a parent then references the small group or ministry leader at home, it reinforces that you are trustworthy.
Mike: I think what you’re doing with the Facebook page is brilliant. Historically when we put together a parenting event, we tend to randomly choose topics. But now you have valuable information that you can use when you create an event or parent resources.
Creating a place to listen, whether virtual or something like an in-person study is so valuable. Now you can prepare answers when they come to you with those needs.
Ally: In years past, we may have recognized a need – but it would involve planning an event, getting leadership buy in, childcare, etc. It doesn’t have to be that way anymore. I can quickly drop a podcast and respond to a felt need. I can quickly shoot a video and put it on the Facebook group for eight thousand parents.
Gina: A Facebook group can feel risky. What if a parent recommends something we don’t support?
Ally: We do vet the posts. I do sometimes hide a post until I can check out a book. But at some point, I just have to trust the Holy Spirit.
Parents are smart. They can decide whether a recommended Instagram account is a wise choice for them to follow.
Gina: The win is greater than the worries. Don’t get hung up on that. I may not have the resources for a podcast or video, but I can do a Facebook group.
Mike: It’s worth doing the messy of Facebook group because the payoff is worth it in the end. Posting a podcast or video doesn’t have to be polished. Just give a word.
Leaning into what parents are talking about—if you don’t have that you need to figure out what that looks like for you, because it is so valuable.
Mike’s son’s school hosted a forum about vaping and other issues. The place was packed out. Parents are looking for resources.
What would it look like if a church could partner with schools or community groups to hold forums on felt needs? We as a church, we are here for you. We know this is a trending thing in our community, and we want to be proactive, not reactive.
Gina: Those actions demonstrate that your church community is relevant for today. The more we continue to overlook the needs of a family, what’s keeping them up at night, the less relevant we are.
Mike: When we’re proactive in the relationship with the child and proactive in the things they are struggling with as a family unit, the more trust is built, the more they’ll be asking what else you have that they can engage with. It starts with meeting the practical rather than just offering Sunday content.
Ally: We greet every parent of when they drop kids off on Wednesday. We give them a bottle of water or hot chocolate, which gets them to open their window. It give us an opportunity to engage people who have never stepped in our church. We get to connect with them.
Have leaders out there who are gifted in starting a conversation. Have them working the car line. You begin to build relationships. I can’t tell you the number of people who will tell you now that they attend Life.Church because someone invited them when they were in line to pick up their 7th grader.
Mike: How could we rethink pick up after Sunday morning? Maybe we give them a piece of candy or bottle of water and say thanks for coming and we want you to know this. Rethink what you’re already doing. Frame it in a different way.
Ally: Some potential volunteers don’t want to work with kids, but are happy to connect with parents in the hallways when kids are being dropped off or picked up – handing over coats, etc. to create a physical connection and engage in conversation.
Gina: We use a resource that Orange offers called Go Weekly. It gives us access to conversation guides for parents based on relevant challenges they face today. Sometimes I wait to give one until a parent has a specific need – but some are more general like establishing a good relationship with your child’s teacher.
Mike: What about the parents who never come to your church, even for drop off? What if you sent home occasionally a link to a podcast or other resources? They may not use that resource but they’re now aware of you as a place to go when a crisis come up. It’s the long game.
Ally: For a parent to know – I DO have an advocate. That’s huge. Often they don’t want to reach out to the school, because the school has already been calling them with the trouble their child is in. They need to know: the church is for us.
Mike: As a church, put on your listening ears to what parents need. It might be Facebook, one-on-one conversations, parent forums, focus groups.
Ally: We did a parent focus group with four or five families. I got a coach who helped us learn not to fish for specific answers. We truly wanted to listen and learn from these parents and find out where they go for answers and help.
It was so enlightening. We got great information—they always go to relationships for advice, rather than just Google. That reminded me how important it is that parents are engaged in biblical community.
When the focus group parents arrived, they thanked us. But when they left, some were in tears. They were so grateful that was it really was for them, not just to help the church. Sharing their ideas with each other was really lifegiving.
Are you effectively listening to the parents in your church community? Consider how you could use a Facebook group, a parent focus group, or even just taking a few parents out for coffee to discover the true felt needs of the parents in your community.