3 Ways to Welcome Reluctant Families Back Amidst the Pandemic
Last Fall, I was walking around in the local supermarket minding my own business. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a familiar face. It was a parent of one of my regular youth ministry students. The parents attended our church regularly as well. I walked over to say hello and the parent’s reaction was startling. The parent seemed embarrassed and a little ashamed. After greeting me quickly, the parent started to apologize profusely for her child missing youth group for months. Immediately recognizing her awkwardness, I emphasized to this parent that it was good to see her and there was no need to apologize.
As I have told many fellow youth workers during this pandemic, “give yourself some grace” doing ministry during the pandemic. No one has ever been through this before. Youth workers are tired, fatigued, working harder than ever while dealing with government and church restrictions for in-person attendance. We are also trying to make Zoom meetings engaging and figuring out how to best keep students involved with our ministry. It’s been hard, so give yourself grace, the same grace Jesus shows us.
In the same way, no parent has lived through a pandemic. Moreover, parenting and making wise decisions about one’s children is polarizing and confusing during the pandemic. On one of the local Facebook Community Groups, you see the whole scope of opinions and views about whether students should be fully back in school, go hybrid, or still stay at home. You can imagine the same discussion happening over church attendance. Some parents want in-person youth group, while some students we haven’t seen at youth group in over a year due to the caution of their parents. For whatever reason, some parents are reluctant. And while I (and most youth workers) want to see their students again in person, there are and will be parents, who are very cautious and reluctant to send their kids back to church. For me, after meeting that parent last Fall and sensing her sense of shame and guilt for not sending her child to church, while at the same time sensing her reluctance to send her teenager, our youth group decided to do three things for reluctant families and parents.
Don’t Guilt Them
No matter what the reason a parent is reluctant to send their child to youth group, our youth ministry team vowed that we would try our best not to “guilt” parents. Again, no one has been through a pandemic before. So whatever reason a parent may be reluctant, we promised as a youth ministry that we would not give parents any sense of guilt or shame. Believe me, sometimes it’s tempting. I see parents sending their youth to school, sending them to sports, sending them to dance class, or sending them to SAT prep class and various other places. And yet, still, some are afraid to send them to youth group for some reason. It can be tempting to judge and look down on these parents. However, loving and respecting our parents’ choices is important in welcoming families back. We want them to know that church and youth group is a place of acceptance and unconditional love. In addition, we want parents to know that our youth groups are ministries that support families and parents.
Outreach to Them
For parents and families we haven’t seen in a while, we have reached out to them through phone calls and personal notes of encouragement. We are keeping them updated about the youth group and church. Our youth ministry has taken time every few months to write personal letters/cards to our parents, letting them know we look forward to their return, keeping them abreast of youth group and church matters, filling them in on our church and youth group Covid policies and protocols, and inviting them back to church and youth group when they are ready. Ultimately, I know texts and emails can also serve this purpose. But, a personal call or handwritten note/card, can add a human touch that can foster a spirit of welcoming to these families and parents. It is also a great invitation to parents to converse, something that many sorely miss during the isolation of the pandemic.
Early in the pandemic, there were many stories on social media of youth workers visiting their students at home, dropping off a package of goodies, and saying hello from a distance. Our youth ministry decided to continue this into this past Fall, Winter, and Spring. We have included the whole family with these packages, with stuff for parents too, dropping by homes when the parents are home with their students. For reluctant parents, it gives us a chance to personally say we miss them and we are excited to see them back when they are ready to return to church.
Ultimately, parents come in all shapes and sizes. For the reluctant families, we need to love them where they are at, show them we are here for them, can’t wait for their return, and let them know they are still valuable to the youth ministry and church. In loving them in this way, as the pandemic slowly but surely gets better, we can foster a youth ministry and church that they know is a place they can be a part of again and welcomes them back when they are ready.
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.