What Parents Want from Youth Ministry

By Doug Franklin June 8, 2020

Most parents don’t automatically make youth ministry a top priority for their students. It’s not that they dislike youth ministry; it’s most likely because youth ministry is not meeting their needs or expectations.

parents, priorities, and expectations

We all make priorities. We choose to spend our time on what is most important to us or on what will give us the best bang for our buck.

Make no mistake, parents are investing in their children. They are just doing it where they believe their students will grow or benefit the most.

Many parents’ expectation for youth ministry used to be “Keep my child out of trouble,” but, in today’s world, parents are expecting for us to coach and tutor students into spiritual champions.

This isn’t all that surprising. We live in a consumer culture, not a service culture. Parents expect sports coaches to train up their students physically, and they expect youth ministries to train up their students spiritually.

And until we start understanding parents’ expectations, we’re likely to see families walk away from our ministries.

What Parents Want

The following list is what I hear some parents wanting. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that not all of these things are good for students. But in the interest of better understanding parents and what’s driving their thinking, here are some expectations to consider.

Parents want youth ministry to fit their schedule

Most parents are on tight schedules, and they want youth ministry to be easy-to-use. They expect us to know how busy they are and to accommodate for their lack of time.

Parents want their students to “like” the youth pastor

Some parents believe that “liking” the youth pastor is the key to their students “liking” God. It’s not true, but somehow parents think that if the student “likes” the youth pastor their student will like church and thus “like” God.

Parents want youth workers to have their student as a priority (even though they allow students to make school and sports their priority)

This reality is hard on youth workers. They build relationships and plan programs only to discover that students have soccer games on Sunday and can’t come. But the minute that a student is in trouble at school parents want the youth worker to step in and fix the situation. Oftentimes, this leads to us, as youth workers, feeling undervalued and mistreated.

Parents want youth workers to be the spiritual influence in their students’ lives

Many parents struggle with the depth of their own spiritual formation. That struggle leads them to push off the responsibility of developing the spiritual lives of their students. Parents need to understand that they must be the primary spiritual influencer in their students’ lives.

parents want safety

Parents want their students to engage with the youth ministry and to truly enjoy it, but they also want their students safe at all times. They have a good deal of fear of what can happen if the wrong person gets involved with their child. They are also afraid of other students influencing their own children. They want to be careful that youth group is good for their child and not dangerous.

How to Change What Parents Want

After reading through these things, you may be sitting there saying, “Exactly! Preach it!” Many of you could come up with a very similar list of challenges or frustrations.

It’s really easy to make parents our enemies. But we must resist this temptation and choose to make them our allies, instead.

Lists like these, while often true, do not go away on their own.

Parents are appointed by God to raise their children; we have been appointed by God to help parents disciple their children into loving relationships with Christ. It’s extremely hard work, but in the end, it’s better than simply having an airing of the grievances.

When we find parents’ greatest needs and start to meet them, we’re more likely to see a change in their wants and expectations.

I have been challenging youth workers to do this around the country, and the stories they tell me are awesome. One youth worker told me he put the question up on a Facebook page, “As parents, what is your greatest need?” and the answers broke his heart. One parent wrote in “I need food” another wrote “I need my spouse to love me.”

At first glance, parents’ greatest needs might not appear to fit into our “youth ministry” job description, but they certainly fit into our job description as ministers of the gospel. And if we work to meet these needs, we will always be at the top of parents’ priorities.

I believe it is our choice as youth workers. We can either blame parents for not making youth ministry a priority, or we can see ourselves as ministers and begin to meet parents’ greatest needs. For the sake of the gospel and the sake of your ministry, I hope you choose the latter.

Watch this Trainingcast episode to hear more about meeting parents’ greatest needs or download our free resource below, “Practical Ways to Partner with Parents”.

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More