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I am sitting here on a cool March day in a Roman Catholic Retreat center in Rockford, IL, enjoying the third Youth Unlimited Youth Worker Retreat. It continues to be an amazing experience as the 26 of us work our way through the 23rd Psalm, network, laugh and share the many ups and downs of being in the trenches of youth ministry.

One of our intentional networking discussions was called “Fish Bowl.” During breakfast, we were given at our various tables a booklet to jot down topics of discussion that pertained to youth ministry. All these topics were compiled and placed on round tables. We were asked to sit at a table where the topic interested us – talk about intentional conversations. The topic I chose was “Partnering with Parents”.

For this discussion I want to change the name ‘Parent’ to ‘Primary Influencer’ (PI). To be honest, I can’t take credit for this new title but I have to admit I like it. A fellow colleague from the West shared this with me and explained why the word parent is limiting. His theory resonated with me to the point that I now have adopted the terminology of using "PI" instead of "Parent" because not every youth in our groups have parents, healthy parents, two parents, "available" parents, etc. So from now I will refer to that specific role as PI.

I chose this topic because I wanted to know if my impressions of PI’s in youth ministry were similar to others' experiences. Did they have the same joy with PI involvement or did they suffer some of the same kind of hair-pulling frustrations?

We began our discussion by struggling with the concept of whether or not PI involvement was even a good idea. We debated the issue and realized that regardless of what the impressions are out there, PI’s are still the main person in your youth’s lives who could have the greatest impact on them. Youth Workers see a youth perhaps 2-3 hours each week from youth group to Sunday after churches; a PI sees them 40-50 hours a week. Who better to have a transformational impact on the youth’s life?

As the discussion began rolling off our tongues, we began to think that youth pastors who only focus their attention on youth are being short-sighted and need to take off the blinders and begin working with families and taking the holistic approach to youth ministry. Youth Pastors need to reach past the Wednesday night youth group and begin reaching into the heart of the families their youth are coming from.

With that said, how do we get PI's involved in youth ministry? The thoughts that went around the table varied but I wanted to share them with you so that you can learn with us, from each other, how to get these important individuals involved in your youth ministry. Here are some ways….

Invite PI’s on your next Mission Project. This one caused a few raised eyebrows because the general consensus is that ministry trips are for the youth to be transformed and how can that happen if their PI is sitting there watching. If you are like most of us, that is exactly what you’re thinking. But we want to challenge that thought! What if a PI came and experienced what the youth is experiencing and as a result grows in their own faith? The key to this is not to give the PI any special treatment. They need to be involved and work through the same various worship exercises that the youth needs to do. They need to SHARE the experience, not observe the experience. How cool would it be if a young girl experiences something in her faith and she sees her dad growing and learning through the same experience? Talk about a connection, a bond, that is created. We shouldn’t be afraid to get PI’s involved because we think the youth don’t want them there. Yes, perhaps that might be the case for some youth initially, but do not make the assumption that it’s the case for all, or that those thoughts and feelings can't be changed positively.

Excellent model for non-church kids. The best way to teach a youth is to model what you are trying to teach. Many non-churched youth have experienced broken relationships, hardships, lack of PI interest in what they are involved in, etc. Imagine the impact it would make on a non-churched youth to sees PI’s there having fun, learning and showing a genuine intereste in what’s taking place. A genuine interest in them! This would give a young person a whole new impression of adulthood. The PI’s in your youth group may become the PI’s to these non-churched youth. That is the beginning and foundation to a lasting relationship that will result in positive transformation in the youth - and the PI.

Parental Fundraiser: Tired of doing all the fundraisers? Call up some PI’s and get their help to run it. When it comes down to it, they are the ones who are going to be supporting your causes with the funds anyway, so let them take ownership of it and be involved in this way. By having them do the fundraiser you have opened your door of possibilities wide open. They have a whole new level of people they associate with that normally might not come to a fundraiser. Watch the money come in and enjoy the extra time that provides you. A side benefit is that it once again sends a positive modeling message to the youth about being involved and interested.

You become the 2nd Visit. When I was working in the church there were many times when a PI would come to me and share their concerns/problems about their child and ask me to take him/her out for coffee or dinner to solve the problems. At the beginning of my ministry I was happy to do it but I soon began to realize that what I doing was just a Band-Aid solution to the problem. I began to realize that PI’s no longer talked with their youth but expected the Youth Worker to do all the talking and fixing. There was a huge lack of communication. I decided to rock the cradle and shift things around. From then on, when a PI would ask if I would take their kid out in relation to a specific situation, I would first ask if they took them out for a coffee or dinner to talk about it. If they said no, I told them that I would only visit with their son or daughter after they went and did the first visit. This opened the channels of communication! It stretched some PI’s, but they did it! If they already talked and nothing was happening, I came in to reinforce what the PI’s were already working on.

PI’s but not parenting: When PI’s volunteer in your youth programs and they have their own child in youth group, it is very important to set boundaries. When a PI comes to youth, they should not be in the role of "parent" to their kids during that time. First of all, they should not be the leader of their own child’s small group, activity group or prayer group. Keep PI’s separate from their own kids. Also, PI’s are not there to discipline their own kids. Make it clear that another leader, perhaps their small group leader, will step in if disciplinary action is required during the evening. What the PI does when they get home is out of your control. I have experienced many PI’s involvement in my previous youth group and the results have been amazing! It’s worth a try but please set guidelines for the sake of your youth. One more thing, if you intend to ask a PI to become a volunteer youth leader, it is always a good practice to talk to their kids first and get their impression.

Information Evening: Once or twice a year have an evening where you invite all the PI’s of your youth to come to the church for coffee and donuts. This is a great opportunity for you to cast your youth ministry vision, to share upcoming events and curriculum plans. It is a safe place for them to ask questions and for you to ask questions of them. Communication with PI’s will go a long way to sustain you in ministry. Respect the PI’s enough to keep them in the loop as to what’s going on. PI’s DON’T like surprises when it comes to their kids.

Provide Take-out! This concept may take a little extra work on your part but it’s worth the effort. Provide material that PI’s can view on your church website or flyers/letters for them to take home that pertains to what you are teaching at youth group. Provide some ‘at home activities’ or suggestions that they can do as a family that relate to your teaching. Suggest some questions that the PI’s could ask when they are together. By spending time developing some Take Out material you are bringing what you do at youth to the kitchen table. Remember, youth ministry is more than just what happens on youth group night.

So friends, these are just a few ideas to get PI’s involved in your ministry more than sitting behind a steering wheel driving from event to event. (Even though you need these people as well.) If you are reading this article you are most likely in youth ministry or you are a PI of youth and therefore you may have ideas or concepts that might work or have worked for you in the past. Please feel free to click on the ‘add comment’ link below and share your thoughts. The CRC Network is for communication and effective communication is a two way street. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Blessings as you move forward in ministry, inviting PI’s to be part of the blessing.

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