Engaging Parents at Info Sessions & Sacramental Prep Classes

"Why don't parents bring their kids to Church?" It’s a question that is shared (or generally sighed or wailed) in youth ministry circles and by sacramental preparation catechists everywhere.

With 15 years in parish youth ministry, I wondered this typically (obsessively) 5 -10 times a day. Now as a parent of 3 teenage kids and my 4th a year away, I’ve developed a broader perspective, and have come to understand what so many parents already know.

The life of the Church is important; but it’s not as important as it is to those of us who minister on behalf of the Church want it to be. Period.

In truth many parents echo the same sentiment as the kids do – they find Church boring and – dare I say it – irrelevant to daily living.

Don’t shoot the messenger. It’s against our religion anyway. Look it up – Exodus 20:13

To help challenge those erroneous suppositions, I’ve put together a list of ideas that I have used to help make the message hit home when we have those precious few moments with the parents of kids we are ministering too:

  1. Don’t be joyless – don’t fulfill the stereotype by being distant and monopolize the talking time. Meet people, shake hands, ask about their family, complement those sitting in the front row for being so courageous – help your audience know that they are NOT just an audience
  2. Share stories – make a connection with the parents of the power of the sacraments by experience and testimony, don’t rely on “the Church says”
  3. Use humour – if you’re not generally very funny, find some material to break the ice (ie. bulletin bloopers) or share some of the imperfections we’ve experienced in ministry leadership. Let the parents see we aren’t “Father’s sacramental pet” that they are expecting us to be
  4. Simply, simplify – review your material. If someone had NO idea of the Church, the sacraments, etc – would they feel left behind? Have someone outside Church life review your talk and ask questions when they don’t understand what you’re saying. Don’t assume the basic sacramental knowledge is there like you expect it to be from parents.
  5. Start on time, finish on time - Don’t penalize those who took you at your word when you asked them to be there by X:00pm or X:30pm.
  6. Get off the script - Don’t use the meeting time to just give information that could have just read off a handout – especially one that you already gave them. Use the talk time to engage & inspire their love of God and the love they have for their child(ren).
  7. What’s important, what’s not - Know the most important 2 things you want communicated to the parents and hammer those points home. Be sure they walk away knowing the most important things you wanted them to walk away with.
  8. Challenge how they feel - How do you want them to leave feeling? Guilty? Uneducated? Bored? Convicted (that they were right about Church gatherings)? Build your meeting to a point where the feelings you want embedded at the end will be felt as they leave.
  9. Visualize – What can you do to help bring more life or visual engagement to your space? How can it become more inviting?
  10. Affirm - Parents are the first to recognize their failings in the parent department. Don’t let the Church be the place to emphasize the point. Finish in praying for them, for God to strengthen them and thank God for them in the love they are striving to witness to their kids.

BONUS: If you want to help change the culture around how non-practicing parents engage (or don’t) the life of the parish – have something planned for them to participate in! Have an ALPHA course ready for parents, or a parent seminar series ready to help them! Let the parents know that we care about them and they aren’t simply the means of getting information (or a sacrament) to their children.

We assume in all of this that you are PRAYING relentlessly for these brothers and sisters of the Church. Ask for God to prepare their hearts for what He desires for them, then help our parents see the Church as a relational partner in supporting them in their parenting, not an institution trying to burden them with further demands on their time.

About the Author, John MacMullen is the Associate Director of Youth Ministry at the OCY and can be reached at 416-599-7676