Communication has never been easier than it is in 2016…but I also feel like it’s never been more complicated. We live in a world where you can now pull a 6-inch touchscreen device from your pocket, and instantly communicate with millions of people in a second. As I mentioned in my post about our online conduct, social media has defined and empowered the cultural identity of the millennial and post-millennial generations. Teenagers today are powerfully shaped by what is posted and shared on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. Adults have taken more of an interest in Facebook, which dwarfs the other three social media platforms I just mentioned in regards to total users and marketing resources. Just about everyone from ages 12-65 is available by some form of electronic communication other than the traditional landline home phone. In fact, about 60% of U.S. households no longer have landlines.
The main take-away for those of us who work with the younger generations is this: “How am I going to consistently connect with parents who have an ever-growing number of sources and preferences for communication?”
Communication is not “one-size-fits-all.”
Several of the resources and methods that I will go through may or may not be the best mode of communication for your specific parents/families. It’s a trial-and-error process that involves your intentional engagement to the various kinds of communication your parents are already accustomed to in their daily schedules. In my experience, trying to get parents to join more than one new subscription or communication method proves increasingly difficult. Unless a new app (like GroupMe) is absolutely necessary for parents to download and use, stick to the main outlets where parents already engage.
What can I use to communicate with the parents of my students?
I am part of a Facebook group that serves as a posting board for thousands of youth ministers and volunteers, where I regularly attempt to give helpful responses to people’s questions or predicaments. I created a poll, and asked my fellow youth workers to check off the resources/methods they use for communicating with parents. Out of the 265 responses and 18 different methods on the poll (people could add their own methods), 67% of the responses were cast for the following 4 resources:
1. Facebook Groups – I can’t say that I was too surprised about the high popularity of this method (20% of the responses). Parents are increasingly active on Facebook, and the major benefit of a group is that every post triggers a notification to every group member. One of the youth workers reminded me that public Facebook pages only get target audience views (parents) at an average of 15%. Additionally, you have to pay to boost the viewing frequency of your posts, essentially making each post a Facebook feed ad. I would suggest that if a substantial amount of your high school and/or junior high parents frequent Facebook, create a group to communicate with them. However, I would not suggest dumping your Facebook page. It makes a great public face for your ministry that has an astronomically higher chance of being visited compared to a regular web page.
2. Remind (Group Text) – Just over 15% of my poll responses went for group texting as a way to communicate with parents. I’m honestly shocked at such a low response. Aside from personally speaking with a group of parents at once, this is the quickest way to get out important announcements or reminders about something. Depending on which study you give more weight to, 50-70% of e-mails are never read. Think about the last time you skipped over, or simply deleted an e-mail without reading it. I do it all the time! When is the last time you skipped over or just deleted a text without reading it? Probably 3 times in your life, and all 3 were an accident. Texts rarely go unread.
Remind is a resource that was originally created for school teachers, and many schools use it for reminders about homework, assignments, and deadline notifications with parents and students. You can use it with your youth parents, and it’s completely FREE. There is no legal stipulation about having to be a school educator to use it. Parents will need to send two easy texts to your specific group code (provided to you by Remind) to register, and they will then be able to receive group announcement texts, group conversation texts, and individual texts from you. You can send them from your mobile app or the website, and it works on any phone that receives text messages (no smartphones or touchscreens required). Did I mention it’s FREE? Head over to https://www.remind.com/ for more info.
3. Handouts/flyers sent home with students – 12% of my responses came from those who use this method to communicate with parents, and I’m surprised it wasn’t a higher amount. I don’t view handouts in the same fading category as landline phones. Let me explain.
While technology has done much to innovate communication and convenience, I think it’s also caused several hindrances in other areas…one of which is memory. Study after study reveals that writing with a pen/pencil and paper increases our ability to remember and recall things, and I always want to offer that opportunity to my students. If you provide something each week for your students to use with the lesson or discussion, you can easily gear the layout to be engaging and useful for parents as well. I personally use the front of the handout for the lesson content, and the back for announcements about upcoming events. It’s also an easy way for parents to connect with their students about the lesson and upcoming things each week (I’ll get more in-depth about content strategy in my next post). Unless it’s a permission slip, don’t give your students an 8.5X11” piece of paper…provide something small but readable that can fit in their Bible, or be folded once in their pockets. I use a double-sided 3.67X8.5” piece of paper (single page of a brochure-size) each week.
All of this being said, don’t let take-home handouts be the primary method of parent communication. I provide a PDF version of the handout each week on the youth web page, since I want to make things convenient for parents and students alike. There will always be those students who leave a crumpled handout on the floor or their chairs, God bless ‘em! I also send it out every week to parents via this next and final method…
4. Basic and/or automated e-mail – Obviously, this method garnered the most responses (almost a quarter of total participation). Aside from texting, this is the easiest way to reach several people quickly, and there are multiple ways to do it.
Basic e-mail – This is the tried-and-true method for everyone in the working world, and it’s great for brief, informative reminders or responses to questions about event logistics. However, links and graphics quickly bog these messages down, and trying to comprehensively cover something turns your e-mail into a fire hose that resembles a short novel. Cue the common delete. This issue is where automated e-mail comes in handy.
Automated e-mail – Automated e-mail services provide colorful, creative HTML templates for your e-mails that can be rich with graphics and links, yet brief enough to avoid an overload for the download speed or attention span of your parents. The most popular service right now (and the service I use) is MailChimp, which has a fantastic “free forever” package with fully custom templates and tracking stats. Constant Contact is another e-mail service with similar features, but while there is a 60-day free trial, the base package starts at $20 per month. Only 7 people from my poll use Constant Contact, while the vast majority of people I know (as well as the poll responders) use MailChimp.
Next week, for the final part of this mini-series on connecting with parents, I will get more into the content and strategies of connection to empower your parents well in leading the discipleship of their students. For now, if you’re looking for new methods to communicate well with parents, I hope this list helps! The next three most popular methods after my list were parent meetings, newsletters, and quarterly calendars. What are the primary ways you communicate with parents?