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5 reminders for communicating news with teens and parents

Reminders for communication news with teens and parentsLast year I shared with you some of the ways my youth ministry communicates with teens and parents throughout the week, and last week I posted the entire video of my seminar on the subject, too.

If you watched the seminar video, these points will sound familiar to you. Here are five things to remember about your youth group announcements and how you communicate them.

1. Communication is a fine art that always seems to be morphing.

Each year when I present the seminar, “Communicating with teens and parents throughout the week,” at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference and I have to significantly update the content. It’s shocking how quickly it becomes outdated! Communication methods change so quickly as technology changes, new tools are introduced, and existing tools evolve.

It’s easy to look at communication over the span of decades and see how the printed word transitioned to the telegraph, which transitioned to the telephone and now how the Internet and social media play a role in all that, but we often fail to see the small subtle shifts that happen between them from year to year that slowly outdate our communication methods and morph into new or enhanced methods.

Because it’s always changing, the next tip is cruicial.

2. We must always evaluate our communication methods.

I’ll confess I’ve only been evaluating our ministry’s communication methods for a couple years now. I used to just take other people’s successful ideas and copy them in my own ministry expecting the same outstanding results, but that rarely happens because culture varies from one part of the country to another, even from church to church in the same community.

When I worked at a church in Texas, email worked perfect for us because almost everyone had Blackberrys. If I sent a message out, I had responses back from almost all my leaders within an hour. But when I moved to Minnesota, not only did most people not have smartphones, but they only checked email about once a week. Some people didn’t use email at all.

So I started tracking what works and doesn’t work in my youth group and came up with some very surprising results.

3. On some level, your audience must take some initiative.

You can be the best communicator in the world, but at some point your audience has the responsibility to receive your message. You can’t embed your youth group announcements into someone’s brain, or make the updated event information somehow post itself on everyone’s refrigerator.

While I know many of our churches expect us to spoon-feed them all the information they want in the way they want it, that’s an unrealistic expectation, especially as your group grows. So, relieve yourself of that expectation right now. It’s unrealistic.

You can and should do everything you can to make the information readily available in a format that easy for them to consume, but they still need to take the initiative to get the information and put it on their own calendars.

I serve a group of about 200 weekly active teenagers and every once in a while I get a parent who says, “We prefer if you could just call us each week and update Johnny about what’s going on with the youth group.” My response is always, “No.” All the information is readily available in multiple formats. Pick which one works best for you and go with that.

Which leads to the fourth tip:

4. Communication methods may take some training.

This is especially true if you’ve done some evaluating and determined that you need to eliminate one of your communication methods in place for something else.

For example, maybe the amount of time you were putting into postcard mailings just wasn’t worth the time and expense anymore, but you have three very vocal families in your ministry who demand that you continue the postcards. Maybe you continue the postcards for a pre-defined period of time while transitioning to bulletin inserts. Then you cut off the postcards because they’re just not working like they used to. You have to start training people to look to the bulletins instead. Sometimes that takes time, but training is a very necessary part of communicating well.

Communicating well includes three things:

  • You must continually reinforce where people can find information. Repeat it over and over again, especially when you change something about how you communicate mid-week information.
  • Be consistent with where you put information. You can’t publish it on Facebook one week, in the bulletin the next, and on your blog another week. Don’t make people play a guessing game.
  • Publish information on a regular schedule so people learn when to expect it. I try to get all our youth group’s information published on Tuesdays so they know when to check the website, email, and Facebook for news and announcements. It becomes a part of their weekly routine.

5. Communication is credibility.

This is perhaps the most important part of why good communication is so essential to youth ministries. Way too many ministries miss this.

A youth worker can be a great person, loved by all the kids and teach God’s Word effectively, but if he communicates poorly with the parents and other church staff members throughout the week, there’s an unspoken level of weak credibility because no one’s quite sure what’s going on. When people feel lost and disconnected, they tend to loose trust in their leader.

Conversely, a youth leader may not be a hero to the students and maybe just an average teacher, but if he/she communicates effectively and consistently with parents and church staff throughout the week, there’s a greater level of perceived credibility and trust just because people feel like they’re included and know what’s going on.

Whether you like it or not, how well you communicate really does impact the perceived level of credibility people have of you and your ministry.

What else?

What other tips and reminders have you found to be true for your ministry? Let’s dialog about them in the comments below.


Posted on March 8, 2010

  • I think #2 is really critical. One thing I've seen among youth workers is trying to communicate the way we like to communicate. If we are email junkies, we expect everyone to do email. If we love Twitter, we can't figure out why everyone doesn't have a Twitter account. I talked to a guy the other day who was trying to get more of his kids to use Twitter so he could communicate with them. But we have to start with the methods that are most comfortable and convenient for our audience.

    Another thing is learning to adjust to multiple portals…church website, youth website, church FB page, youth FB page, twitter account, email, text blasts…we can spend all of our time trying to format our messages into 27 different formats to get it out there in as many ways. We've got to find the most efficient means for our group and teach the stragglers to get on board. Great post!

    • You're absolutely right — you have to communicate in ways people will consume your information. Putting it on MySpace when there are no MySpace users in your group is pointless, just like Twitter. Good point.

  • #5 is huge. I can't reiterate that enough for any new youth pastors. I was blessed in my first position with a parent who was employed on a part-time basis before I was hired to take care of communication and administrative stuff while they searched for a new youth pastor. Thankfully, they let her stay on, and she taught me a lot about how parents think, and encouraged me to communicate well. It would have been a rough go if she didn't help me understand how important this was. I had no idea what I was doing in that first position, but parents cut me a lot of slack at times because we communicated what we were going to do and followed through. That's the main reason I continue weekly email updates. The VAST majority of students do not read them, but parents appreciate knowing what's coming up, even if they only skim it, and most of them actually use this thing called email every now and then!

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