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Serving Parents Who Don’t Go to Your Church

In Tim Elmore’s book, “Generation iY – Our Last Chance to Save Their Future”, Tim describes different types of parenting styles that are less than helpful.  As I reflect on my youth ministry experiences I clearly see many of the following:

  • Helicopter Parents– they hover too close to the kids at all times.
  • Karaoke Parents– they try too hard to be cool, often parroting back what their kids do, say, and wear.
  • Dry-Cleaner Parents– drop their kids off for others to raise.
  • Volcano Parents– erupt over minor issues. (If you’ve never witnessed this just spend more time at Wal-Mart.  You’re bound to encounter these parents.)
  • Dropout Parents– these parents have just quit on their kids.
  • Bullied Parents– can’t stand up to their kids.
  • Groupie Parents– treat their kids like rock stars.
  • Commando Parents – let rules trump relationships.

Listen gang, parenting is hard.

When a kid acts up at youth group it is easy to blame poor parenting as a default response. But, when I think about the challenges kids and their parents face today I can see why some may be tempted to default to the perceived “path of least resistance”.

Those of us in ministry are encouraged to take Sabbath rests (or we should), clinicians work to prevent compassion fatigue to avoid burnout, those in the workforce are allowed vacation/sick time to recoup, but what about parents? When are they afforded an opportunity to rest? To retreat? To sharpen their parenting skills? To avoid parenting burnout?

Can our ministries find better ways to support our parents, especially parents that don’t already attend church? Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Plan regular gatherings for parents (i.e., retreats, workshops, one-day training events, etc.).  Events that just validates the struggles of parenting kids in today’s world.  Target the single mom, the over worked dad, the couple struggling to find time for each other and provide a soul care getaway.We recently offered to watch two pre-teen boys for a couple at our church so the parents could get away for a spiritual formation retreat. Not having any local family, they wouldn’t have been able to do that without child care. Another time there was a group of young teenage girls who were in a cutters club (self-injury). Parents expressed the need for support as they navigated this with their kids. We provided a weekly meal and gathering space for their meetings and used our connections to a therapist in our congregation to education them on cutting and for referrals for counseling if needed.
  1. Develop an opportunity to intergenerationally “rub elbows” just for parents. Find those from previous generations that have earned the grey hair from weathering the storm of raising kids and create space for them and younger couples to hang out. This might be something as simple as a neighborhood block party or cookout.
  2. If there is a teenager in the house, chances are the parents are running nonstop, from one event to the other. Offering transportation to and from practices or meals during busy sports seasons can be a tremendous way of saying, “We see you and you matter to us”.
  3. Speaking of sports, how about helping your local volunteer baseball or soccer coach. Offer to have the church pay for a coaches training or umpire certification. These are costs working-class parents absorb to invest in their kids and their friends. Help offset those costs as a way of supporting them. Offer to be a chaplain for the team. Offering prayers for the coach, team, and their families.
  4. Just be a friend. Introduce yourself and invite them out for coffee. Parenting, especially in seasons of difficulty, can feel isolating. There is a constant fear that we might be screwing our kids up or not measuring up to other parents. A simple friendship can be the most incarnational thing we do. Have a theology of friendship, loving them simply because God first loved you.

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

These are just a couple of ideas to get you thinking.  We are likely to have the full support of the parents in our ministry efforts if they know we have their back first.

What are other ways you’ve served parents that don’t go to church? What has worked? What hasn’t?


chrisChris Schaffner is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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