Kerry is one of our speakers and professors leading youth ministry college students through the experiences at the National Youth Workers Convention. Join us for NYWC this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.
Confession time. I could very easily be…um…THAT parent. You know the one…the one that is “over involved” and asks way too many questions and drives a youth worker crazy with their seemingly overwhelming neediness for information and time. This feels especially true when kids are transitioning from the kid’s ministry into the youth ministry. As youth workers we want to scream: “I GOT THIS! Trust me!” (WARNING: This is really only safe to do in your office by yourself, with the door closed, and when absolutely no one else is in the building.)
The truth is my husband and I have done this transition to middle school thing before MANY times. Our youngest has 5 older siblings and I am a career youth worker. I regularly meet with parents and I plan the transition. Really, I should be a pro at this and it should be no big deal. However, as youth workers we don’t always help ourselves. We need to get smarter about how we help not just kids, but their parents, transition in trust. Here’s some practical ways to help:
Return every call, e-mail, and text every single time.
What a youth worker thinks: I’ve got 40 zillion things to do and we covered this question in the meeting, on the web, in the paperwork, at youth, in the church bulletin, through social media, and in the all-church announcements.
What a parent thinks: Professionals return communication in a timely way and this question is not just about some kid, it’s about MY kid. Timely return of communication tells me you are a professional and take the job seriously. It also tells me that you take ME seriously.
The bigger lesson: Every contact matters and every contact builds trust. Missed contact will mean missed opportunities to build trust.
Always be on time and have a well-communicated plan if you can’t.
What a youth worker thinks: We know what it takes to get a zillion teens loaded on the bus and then on the road. We didn’t exactly plan for the rising 6th grader to get locked in the rest stop bathroom and require a locksmith to get them out (true story). We didn’t plan for the kid to throw up all the junk food and soda all over the inside of the church van after a day of trying to break the park record for the most number of rides in one day on what the kid has described as “the most epic awesome cool coaster ever.”
What a parent thinks: The munchkin in the backseat is now falling apart as it is WAY past bedtime and I’m going to be late to pick up the other kid from practice. Thank you, youth worker. Failure to communicate has now caused a domino effect in our family that I will be paying for over the next 24 hours. I’m frustrated. I’m mad. Now I am worried. Why isn’t anyone answering their phone or posting the new arrival time?
The bigger lesson: Consistently being on time and then clearly communicating when you can’t helps parents know they can count on you. It also may save you from unwanted bad press or extra meetings. So take the time to set expected arrival times and then have a clear plan for communication if the time needs to change. (Social media can be a great way to post the information.)
Always carefully proofread what you send out. (Yes, I am judging you.)
What a youth worker thinks: This is not English class and everyone makes mistakes. Please cut me some slack! It was just a tweet!
What a parent thinks: If you can’t spell and you don’t have the sense to have someone proofread your work or at least run spell/grammar check, then how can I be sure that you will take care of the necessary details to keep my kid from harms way? Details matter. PLEASE take care of the details!
The bigger lesson: No one signed up for youth ministry because they are an English major or have really great grammar. However, taking care of the things that don’t seem to matter that much demonstrates the capacity to care of the things that matter most. Handle the details. If you’re not good at it, then recruit someone who is a detail ninja to handle them. Then your job is to KNOW the details, communicating them clearly and often.
Scripture tells us that faithfulness with the small things means we can be counted on to be faithful with the big things (Luke 16:10a). It’s true about even things like returning calls, showing up on time, and spelling words correctly in communication materials. It’s annoying but it’s real. Take care of the little things because, frankly, my kid is a big deal to me and to my family. . . and you will be a big deal to us too.
Kerry Loescher is a youth ministry professor at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK and is one of our YSASN professors, leading youth ministry majors and other college students through the National Youth Workers Convention experience. With more than 20 years of youth ministry experience, she is passionate about helping kids and families connect the dots between Jesus and their everyday lives.