Jenna came to our youth group at the invitation of a friend who was a member of our church. She had spiky, stop-sign-red hair and was excited to “finally” get her first tattoo at 16. Jenna had been to her grandmother’s Catholic church on Christmas and Easter as a child, but was scolded when she wore the rosary that was given to her as a necklace. She wasn’t necessarily interested in church, but she liked the way she felt like part of the family when she came to our church…especially because she was new to town.
She and her “tribe” (as I like to call them) of other youth went through confirmation together, starting as juniors in high school. They confirmed their faith the morning after their senior prom…still wearing their formals after having slept in the parking lot. Jenna’s faith statement was eye-opening, inspiring, and pointed to Jesus.
Seems like the perfect outreach story, right? But Jenna’s mother, and sole caretaker at the time, is still not a Christ follower, four years later. When I sat down to interview Jenna about this article, I had no specific topic I wanted to address. I just wanted to hear Jenna speak about the good, the bad, and the ugly of youth group. The first thing that came out of her mouth was, “The parents of the youth don’t know Jesus.” Yikes. And it was true for her “tribe.” None of the kids had parents who were still married (or ever had been, in some cases) and the parent that they lived with had no meaningful connection to Jesus Christ.
If we had structured ourselves to intentionally connect with parents, not only would more of them likely be Christians, but the ripple effect would continue. Their other children, new spouses, and grandchildren would have a much greater possibility of being Christ followers as well. Youth would be reached for Jesus in a much more effective way–the parent’s guidance–than we as a church could ever do! Plus, there would have been fewer episodes of Jenna being “grounded from church.”
So, if we want to reach (more) youth, we have to reach out to their parents. You aren’t intentionally structured to reach out to parents? Neither are we! But we have to start somewhere. So let’s pick at least ONE of the following ideas, give them a try and then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org let me know how it went for you! Hey, we’re all in this together!
- Start small – Jenna suggested having at least one night when a parent is required to attend. This could be an Orientation Night at the beginning of the school year. An orientation night is helpful not only for the parents to know what is going on, but for you to meet the parent. You can’t get to the Gospel in a relationship without the actual relationship! Don’t think you can require parents to do something? You’re right! But you can follow up with those who “weren’t able to make it” and invite them out for coffee and go over what was discussed at orientation. Frankly, this would be the best way to start a relationship with them!
- Take the next step – At our orientation nights, we ask the kids and the parents to fill out a survey about themselves. The final questions are “Who is Jesus to you?” “If you were to die tonight, what would happen to you?” and “How do you know that?” Their answers to these questions are the perfect way to take someone’s spiritual temperature. After reviewing their responses you can prayerfully decide what would help them take the next step spiritually. Do you have an Alpha class at your church (www.alphausa.org)? Why not host a “Coffee Q&A” where people can ask whatever question they want and find out what answers God gives us in Scripture? Maybe they are ready for an Adult Confirmation Class. There’s always the old standby…invite them to church. Better yet, challenge your youth to invite them to church!
- Repetition is the mother of all learning – Reaching someone with the Gospel is often a long, slow process. I have a friend who did not call herself a Christian until four years into our relationship. And that doesn’t take into consideration each Christian who shared the Gospel with her throughout her entire life up until that point. If you’re disappointed that a parent just doesn’t seem to get it, use your frustration as a reminder to ask God to give them the gift of faith.
- Encourage your youth with this point as well. Jenna is challenged with the knowledge that those who don’t trust in Jesus go to hell…and that her mother and two siblings do not. Once again, when that thought is brought to mind, she can use it as a reminder to pray for their eternal salvation. Remember, it takes an average of eight times for someone to hear the clear message of salvation before they believe. Did they turn down your invitation for coffee? Invite them again. Did they turn down your invitation to church? Invite them again. Did they seem unresponsive to your Gospel presentation? Share it again.