by Stephen Ingram
Stephen is a 25+ year youth ministry veteran. His books include Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook, and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel, ExtraOrdinary Time: 365 Ordinary Moments with an Anything But Ordinary God; and Organic Student Ministry. Stephen serves as the Sr. Director of Resource Development for CYMT.
I’m a youth minister. I have been one for 26 years.
I’m not only a youth minister, more importantly I am a Dad. I have a senior and sophomore in high school and a 6th grader. My kids are involved in several activities like band, school clubs and of course youth group. As a parent with kids who are involved in activities I cannot tell you just how absolutely vital communication is for our family.
Some of the groups our kids participate with are absolutely fantastic at communicating, they answer our questions before we have them, they have accurate and up to date detailed information readily available in multiple forms and they do all of this in a professional and timely manner.
Then there are organizations and groups our kids participate with that… well… do not do those things! As you prepare for the fall in your youth ministry, I cannot stress to you enough the importance and absolute necessity of excellent communication to your students and your parents. This week I want to give you a few keystones of excellent communication that will not only make it easier and more advantageous for your students to participate but will also build trust and commitment from your parents.
- Static and Dynamic Communication- Lets be honest for a second, parents do not read all of the emails in their inbox. Few things are more frustrating than a parent asking you a question about something you sent them an email about the day before. But that is life. Parents are busy, have tons of emails and are not always the most responsible at reading emails. So it is incredibly important to make sure that they have multiple access points to redundant information.
- Best practice: Any information for events, programming and trips should be available in at least 2-3 ways. Always send accurate, informational, not too wordy yet compelling emails to your parents. I like doing this through a weekly email newsletter. Its a great reminder and keeps your programming in front of the parents each and every week.
- Best practice: Always have your website up to date with the exact same logistical information as the weekly email newsletters. Parents accidentally (or purposefully) delete your emails sometimes. If they know about the website and trust it for accurate and up to date information they will be able visit it at any time of day or night and get the information they need when they need it.
- Best practice: Parent text groups are a great way to remind parents of upcoming events, registration deadlines and links and create community through the sharing of pictures and stories. I love our parent group me. It allows me an even more direct way to get in front of our parents eyes. They love it when I share pictures and stories with them that feature what we have been doing that week in youth group. They also really appreciate the fact that when a deadline is coming for a trip or retreat they know they will receive a reminder with a registration link directly into that group. It keeps them out of hot water with their kids by not missing deadlines and keeps their kids involved in all of our events. Just don’t spam them, ha ha.
- BONUS: I am actually still a big fan of sending out a semester newsletter in print form. Families put these on their refrigerator and are a great reminder and reference point in the home.
- Story Media– Social media is so tricky. If you post too much you are muted or they unfollow you, too little there is not exposure or engagement. So what is the right answer? Well, maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of worrying about frequency what if we focused on telling the stories of our ministry when the stories need to be told. Social media seems to work best when we understand the fact that stories, not advertisements, are compelling. So how do we tell the stories that need to be told?
- Best Practice: Faces always tell the story better than words. Pictures of the youth doing what the youth do is always more interesting to both parents and students. With the advancements of modern cell phones and the quality of their cameras you can do some professional quality work with just the device in your pocket. I love using portrait mode to really focus my shots and I cannot tell you how incredible cinematic mode has been for our videos. If you can capture quality images and frame those with short and compelling narratives you will have a social media following that is faithful and engaged.
- Plan Ahead, Because Your Parents Are– Want to have priority on your parents calendar? You can! You just have to be the first ones there. The only way to do this is to get 12 months ahead of your parents. This will not only get your programming and trips top billing but it will also communicate a sense of organization that youth ministers are not usually known for, ha ha.
- Best Practice: When it ends, start again. Just finished summer mission trip? Back burned and exhausted from your beach retreat? Awesome, now is the best time to defrag that event, determine if you are doing it again next year and if so get the dates, location and booking nailed down! By doing this right after you finish with an event you not only almost always guarantee you are first on the venue’s calendar but you will for sure be first on your parents calendar! In your recap email/ video go ahead and put next years dates. Change the date on website and by default secure early admission to your parents calendar!
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list I know that by employing these tools and skills you will up your communication game as well as your credibility and trust with your students and families!