I recently asked a group of lead pastors what they are most looking for in a children’s pastor (they were all launching a new search for a children’s pastor). To my surprise, one of the top qualities each listed was “the ability to communicate well with parents and volunteers.” It is imperative that you communicate well and often with parents to truly be partners with them in their child’s spiritual formation. The more volunteers you recruit, the more teams and shifts you create, the more adept you must become at communicating clearly and effectively with your volunteer base. Gone are the days when a children’s leader could get away with saying, “I only speak to kids, not adults.” You must be an effective communicator to adults for the kids’ department to thrive and grow.

Some information—the very important turns and changes in the ministry, whether they be leadership changes, curriculum or scheduling changes—must be clearly communicated to the parents and leaders. But how do you go about relaying it to parents and volunteers? You are going to have to be strategic, persistent, and consistent to get information across. So I encourage you to use some or all of these methods to convey information:

  1. Use live meetings with a big group sparingly. Mass meetings are not a method to use weekly. They should be only by used to convey something of great importance (examples: major curriculum change, service times change, key leader stepping down, brand new security procedures that affect everyone). That way, when you call a meeting, they will know it’s important.
  2. Advertise it at least one month in advance, and advertise it in many ways.
  3. Be specific. Who is supposed to be present? When you say “parent meeting,” is that all parents? Parents of kids up to twelve years old? Parents are understandably irritated if they clear their schedule (especially if they paid a sitter) to go to your important meeting, only to find out you didn’t mean them. Which volunteers did you need at this training and why? Be specific about the location. Can anyone find that room if they are new? What time is it? Is there child care provided? How long will the meeting be? Indicate why the meeting is important, like a leadership or curriculum change, but don’t go into too much detail. One church I visited handed out a leaflet during the service that said, “Parent meeting right after service in the choir room.” Parents were in a mass of confusion. I heard them saying, “Meeting right after which service?” “Why do we have to go? Is the pastor leaving?” “I’m a parent of two junior-highers. Do I have to go?” “I’m new. Where on earth is the choir room?” That parent meeting was a total disaster. I heard that the youth pastor who called the meeting never made that mistake again. But sadly the congregation didn’t forget it soon either.
  4. Be respectful of people’s time. I didn’t fully understand this when I was a new children’s pastor, but now that I have kids of my own, it makes more sense. For example, do everything in your power not to take another night of the week. Parents and volunteers are already, on average, gone at least five nights a week with church, sports, recitals, plays, and so on. If you pick a night during the week, unless it is an emergency meeting, many will not be there. And the ones who show up want a sense that this was important to take some of the only family time they might have that whole week. Try to have the meeting when they are at church already—first service, if you have two (this takes care of someone to watch their kids too); directly after a service (some will complain about lunch); before or after midweek service (some will complain if it gets late for their kids to be out on a school night). No matter when you pick, someone will complain, so you cannot please everyone, but try to be considerate. They will already be resentful of you if they feel you do not care about their family time, and you need them on your team!
  5. I do not recommend sending out a survey asking what time to have the meeting. You will get thirty-seven different answers; one person will get their way (and probably not show up) and the rest will think, “no one cares that I filled out the survey” and not show up. I personally ask one or two people I trust and then make a decision and stick with it.
  6. This is going to sound awful, like bribery, because it is bribery, but we always have more people show up when we offer food. So we offer refreshments if we really need people to hear what we have to say. Advertise that you will have refreshments!
  7. Honor their time by keeping to the point and being brief. Stick to your notes. Better to end early than irritate people with a never-ending meeting. Yes, you probably have a lot of things on your heart to go over, that need changing in the kids’ area, but this is not the time for that. Stick to the reason you have them there. If you don’t, they won’t come to the next one.
  8. Do not give out information early. This is an important lesson I learned as a children’s pastor. When I went on staff at a certain church, I was told that “no one shows up for parent or volunteer meetings.” I wondered why. Then I called a meeting about an important security change. Right away the phone calls started coming in. “Um, I can’t make the meeting. What’s the announcement?” “We are out of town. Just give me the details.” Right away I realized why no one came to the meetings. There was no reason to. They got a few abbreviated details over the phone, passed them on to each other, and skipped the meetings. The meetings were no longer of any importance. People were shocked as I told them one by one, “I’m sorry to hear that. This will be a very important change happening. I want it to first be presented to the people present. Wouldn’t want it to get out over the grapevine. I highly suggest you get with one of those who were there after you return and get their notes. That’s a bummer, because I really would have liked your input. But maybe after you get back you can make an appointment with me and I can try to catch you up.” This had a dramatic effect. First they pushed for more info. I held to my guns very politely and wished them a great trip. Word got out that something “big” was going on. Nine times out of ten “their schedule just cleared up.” And I spoke to a packed house. Give them a reason to show up and be really present. Ask yourself these questions: Is this change something you want discussed in the court of public opinion before you even present it? Do you want to give ammo to those who resist change? Do you want parents and volunteers serving with only partial or possibly incorrect information? Do not call a parent or volunteer meeting for any petty reason. But when you determine that the change affects everyone and they need to be there, do not give out an abbreviated version before the event.
  9. Give people a chance to provide input, feedback, and ask questions. Be prepared to give well-researched answers to their questions. If you do not know the answer, take down the questioner’s name and respond, “I’m not sure, but I will find out.” You will gain parent support and more volunteers if you allow honest feedback and questions. I usually take notes during that time. People will show up if they have buy-in.
  10. Do not let anyone monopolize the discussion. Especially if you are a young or new children’s leader, stay in charge of that meeting and keep it on the task at hand. Do not allow the topic to get derailed to something else. Do not let it be a forum for debate. Your response when challenged sets the tone for your ministry. Also, don’t be defensive or argumentative. You’re not trying to lead the meeting, you are leading it. It is not the place to aim anything at anyone or have a great big public argument. There are people in this world who jump at the chance for public drama. That is the biggest drawback to having a parent or volunteer meeting. Don’t give anyone a pulpit for a public drama. Shut down anything nasty as soon as it starts.  Many parents and volunteers do not want to attend group meetings or trainings because they know someone always monopolizes the meetings and/or they become negative bashing sessions. You can change this perception. If someone starts something say something like this:

“That is a whole different discussion, for another time. Make an appointment to see me about that” (they usually won’t because they want an audience).

“Okay, let’s hear what some other parents think about this topic.”

“Interesting, but for the sake of time, let’s stay on topic.”

“I know you probably have more you would like to share on this topic. Good thing I am putting my email up on the screen! I am also handing out these feedback forms. Please put your name on it if you wish to be contacted. Everyone please fill out a feedback form and leave it on your chair.” (Instead of public meetings, some churches now use only email and forms for feedback. I understand why.)

Remember that the purpose of the meeting is to communicate vision, convey information, and occasionally to garner feedback. It is not a debate. Do not imply that the church’s decisions are being debated or being voted on. You are letting them know that a decision has been made or that a change is coming. Never use one of these meetings to attack someone or any area of the church. Do not retaliate in any way if someone makes a snide comment. You set the tone. Make sure the parent or volunteer meeting is a positive, uplifting, and beneficial experience for everyone involved. Make all of your parents and volunteers eager to be at any meeting you call.