Yesterday we told you about this crazy opportunity Kenny and I had to hang out with 7 of the most creative and incredible Middle School Pastors in the country. We spent three days together, talking ministry, brainstorming, swapping ideas, and dreaming about the future of Middle School Ministry together.

The conversations we had were challenging, inspiring, and packed full of practical ideas. 

So this week, I’ll be publishing my (mostly) unedited notes from our talks. Starting today! With a conversation about…


Be sure you check out the line-up of people participating in this conversation – so you can have some context for these notes, of course, but also because these are youth pastors you definitely want to be following. 

  • SEAN | When it comes to Family Ministry or Parent Ministry, what is working?
  • DAN | Their church has been using parents as volunteers whenever possible (hand-picked parents). 75% of his volunteer team are now parents. They seem to stick with the ministry longer than young volunteers do. They also “sell” volunteering to other parents and bring them on board to serve. At first, this happened organically, but now they encourage it intentionally.
  • KATIE | When you’re leading your ministry well, your students’ parents will naturally become cheerleaders for your ministry. Saddleback is now trying to increase their efforts to connect with parents via technology and social media. Twitter was great for staying connected during a trip they took to Rwanda, and is also effective throughout the year. In parent meetings and face-to-face interactions, their staff has actually set up Twitter mobile alerts on parents’ cell phones for them. They plug their social media channels every time they have parents face-to-face, show them how to use it if they’re unfamiliar, and tell them to literally “take out your phones and follow us right now.” Parents sometimes need help understanding the importance of social media or seeing how it could benefit them, but once they’re in, they’re in.
  • ALAN | Fellowship Knox is trying to move toward a more holistic look at Family Ministry. They tried a Family Life Initiative where different staff members and departments became champions of certain age groups and were responsible for training parents to have spiritual conversations with their kids. But the initiative became too programmatic and too overwhelming to the staff, so they’ve moved on.
  • NATE | What does “parent ministry” actually mean? How do you do it? As student pastors, do we need to shift our entire approach and former responsibilities as student pastors? Do we need to start eliminating things from student ministry so we can focus on better equipping parents?
  • ALAN | Their church realized they needed to start backing off the Family Life Initiative and try something different. They’re currently checking out and trying to implement it.
  • KATIE | Saddleback is also trying to figure out how might fit into their system. They’re considering reshooting some of their videos and reframing things to fit better into their language and context.
  • ELLE | The Chapel is looking into too. It looks very effective and simple to use, but it will also require partnership across ministries to pull it off well.
  • SEAN | Calvary had a family service for Easter last year, but their middle school kids hated it. So where do family worship services fit into “family ministry?”
  • KATIE | Saddleback cancels one service a month so students can go to church with their parents. Their team likes it overall, but they are still evaluating and wrestling with it because, like Sean, their middle schoolers don’t like it. Maybe it should be high school only? Next year, they will probably scale back from once a month to 6-8 times a year or so.
    • PROS: It hasn’t hurt the momentum of their Middle School Ministry. Their staff gets to meet students who don’t usually come to their youth services. Their staff gets to see parents when they usually don’t have access to them.
    • CONS: Their middle school kids don’t look forward to it. The adult services aren’t always a great fit for middle schoolers.
  • DAN | If we want students in the adult services, then the adult services should be cool and engaging for students and have faces on stage that they’ll recognize (like their youth pastor or their worship band).
  • ELLE | A lot of their students (especially the boys) don’t want to leave middle school ministry and start going to the adult services after graduating 8th grade. To help with the transition, they’re going to be sending 8th grade small groups on field trips to the adult services, where they’ll get exposure to the adult environment and have a chance to dialogue with their peers and Small Group Leader about the experience.
  • KATIE | They try to give middle school kids doodle pads and candy when they’re in the adult services.
  • NATE | We’ve been talking about a few different things here…
    • How to get parents involved in youth ministry.
    • How to get middle school kids connected with other generations in the church.
    • How to empower and mentor families.
  • KENNY | Two things they do at The Chapel…
    • They encourage strong connection between Small Group Leaders and their students’ parents. One really effective way to do this has been with their Small Group Leader & Parent Breakfasts (Small Group Leaders promote the event themselves, invite the parents of their students, and spend time building relationships and talking partnership with them over a meal). They also help Small Group Leaders plan (and pay for)  small group parties, where they can foster relationships outside of church with both their students and their students’ parents.
    • They give parents access to their weekly message notes and small group conversation starters. These are available online and on paper so parents can lead conversations at home about what their kids learn each week.
  • DAN | They make lesson outlines, and sometimes videos, available to parents way in advance – they make the entire “scope & sequence” of their teaching plan for year available in the fall. For parents, their goal is to “inform, interest, involve, and intertwine” (a Rick Warren idea). Monthly newsletters go out to their parents and their staff pastors. Sharing the big vision scope & sequence for the year with parents has won him a lot of buy-in.
  • NATE | That’s good stuff. Sometimes the simple things we do are the most effective, but get overlooked or forgotten.
  • ELLE | They have done family date nights (father/daughter, mother/daughter, father/son), where parents simply go hang out with their kids in meaningful ways. Conversation starters (in the form of placemats, games, and take-homes) were tools that parents could use at the event and even at home. The vision was for parents to become the heroes in their kids’ eyes and for the church to get out of the way.
  • KATIE | Sometimes, parents of middle schoolers don’t think their kids are fun – they’re nervous or awkward or skeptical about how to hang out with them and have meaningful moments. Because parents are worried about the middle school years, facilitating fun times for families is huge, like a mother/daughter game night (fun and conversations, mother/daughter team competitions).
  • SEAN | His church’s community, which is affluent, sees a lot of kids who are essentially being raised by nannies. Because many parents see the raising of their kids to be something that can be outsourced, he can only connect with maybe half of his parents, max. They see the church as the place you outsource a kid’s spiritual development, because that’s what they do for all other areas of their kids’ lives.
  • NATE | That perspective is deeply entrenched in the culture – turning that around could feasibly take 10 years to reverse. It requires top-down leadership from lead pastors (who communicate to parents) in order to change it.
  • NATE | He has found that it’s important to separate “play time” from “instructional time” with parents and their kids. Trying to combine them doesn’t seem to flow. How often do you connect with parents on a philosophical level? Do your senior pastors know and believe in the value of middle school ministry?
  • MARK | One of their student ministry team members did a 6 month research/report about the state of the family and the church. That team member is now doing family ministry for their church, providing resources for the family, improving communication to parents, and getting his team to work together to plan some key events for parents/families (including one event on social media). Their family ministry efforts have been very piece-meal in the past, but their strategy is now becoming more cohesive.
  • NATE | We can (and need to) really help change, on a large scale, the perspective of the church on the value of Middle School Ministry. He once gave a presentation about the importance of Middle School Ministry, and then talked about how to interact with and minister to middle schoolers. It was very well received. How do we help more people see it?
  • ALAN | The parent ministry piece must be holistic for the whole church, but what can the Middle School Ministry department do specifically to help make it happen? His church realized they needed to meet with other departments regularly, but not necessarily create more programming, because too much programming actually splinters the family. It’s a slow process but it’s encouraging to see the progress. Remember that a parent just wants to be encouraged. Their staff tells parents, “You’re not always the most immediate influence, but you’re always the most important influence, in your kids’ life.”
  • KATIE | The parents I see on a regular basis (the ones who are engaged) aren’t the ones who need the most urgent parenting help. So how do we help the “fringe” parents?
  • ALAN | We can’t directly reach everyone with our ministries. That’s why we need to rely on healthy families to reach out to other families. Their church is seeing great things happen with this.
  • KATIE | She feels less pressure to do more “stuff” and meet every need these days, and is focusing instead on just providing help and resources that parents can come get if they want it. Remember that middle schoolers, too, are ministering to their parents in countless small ways. Our ministries are connecting with parents through their kids when they take things home, talk about their small groups, ask to go to events, and generally live out their faith. Their team has chosen to step back from the pressure of reaching every parent and, instead, remember that they do tons of things naturally for parents without even realizing it. By planting seed in a middle schooler’s life, we are reaching parents through the lives lived by their kids.

What would you add to this conversation about parent ministry? Did you see any ideas that you’d like to put into practice with your ministry?