Connecting with Parents – Part 3 of 3: The Long Game

A childhood buddy of mine is pretty good at chess. I remember him bringing a big chess strategy book to summer camp (a real hit with the ladies), and hearing him talk about new methods he was trying to learn. His current workplace has even held tournaments for kids, and I still see his pictures/posts of challenging masters in the midst of scrolling through my Facebook feed. My friend has memorized, and even disciplined himself in the art of strategy.

Strategy is an incredibly valuable trait in the pages of history. Whether you’re talking about war, business, sports, technology, or leadership, you will find that those who work to discover and hone excellent strategies usually find immense success. Unfortunately, the human race hasn’t always been great at learning from the past, and I believe today’s quick-pace, tech-heavy culture has found a convenient alternative to long-term strategy: fast and flashy.

The process of constantly evaluating and re-evaluating methods to implement or achieve something has, in my opinion, lost much of its complexity in 2016. In today’s business models, I feel like strategies that highlight speed and luster are more sought after than strategies that ensure long-term success with the caveat of patience and “trench” work. Don’t get me wrong; I think businesses and people have always sought the quick, easy, or cheap way toward accomplishment. You might even argue that technology has allowed for us to streamline successful campaigns and ventures in a fraction of the time it took 25 years ago for the same success. I don’t disagree with that. However, I think our culture’s newfound ability to implement and flaunt the mindset of “fast and flashy gets it done” has set a dangerous precedent for the younger generations, and those who lead them. Our culture now has such a short attention span, that we find ourselves scrambling for something that will grab people’s attention long enough for them to have meaningful engagement. Instead of building a solid foundation and slowly adding to it, we look for something shallow with a bang. Brevity is fine, but sacrificing quality and intention isn’t a great trade-off.

This is the final post of my three-part series on connecting with parents. I hope these 3 principles will provide context and encouragement for finding strategies that help you equip and truly partner with the primary disciple-makers of our students!

Pursuing Failure > Settling for Completion

Unlike most major businesses, youth workers don’t really have the luxury of a controlled group to poll and test all of their resource material and equipping content. Other youth staff, volunteer leaders, or even a parent board can certainly help with insight; however, the nature of ministry should rightly lead to personal interactions and subjective discernment. The bottom line is that at some point, in some manner, something you do will fail.

Failure should not be seen as a horrid thing to avoid at all costs, but rather like a road sign that tells you where to turn up ahead. It should push us to keep learning our audience and improving the quality of our content and delivery. Our idea of failure can be getting out a resource/e-mail that no one uses or opens, or having an event fall flat because there wasn’t enough prep or heads-up about it. No one is clicking on your links? Put important information there, and don’t provide it in other places where you could care less about parents looking. Parent feedback request go largely untouched? Follow up with several parents personally; most of them will have never seen the request, or accidentally deleted it from their phone or inbox. When we settle for a 25% parental response, and resources and requests are provided…but never used…we are just settling for a checked box on our to-do list. Never settle. Keep personalizing your interaction and maximizing your communication with parents, and don’t let mishaps shut down your progress. It will go a long way in establishing authentic connections.

Simplicity is profound, not dumbed-down.

You might read my intro paragraphs and think that I abhor all of the current marketing/graphic campaigns in today’s advertising culture. Not at all! Several are creative and clever, and simplicity is the center of many initiatives. We can provide simple structure without sacrificing depth and intentionality.

In my previous post, I brought up automated e-mail as a great tool for consistent communication without worrying about a novel’s amount of text to sift through. MailChimp provides a free package with great templates for graphics, web buttons, and other information. I’ll give you an example from my weekly parent newsletter I send using MailChimp.

Here’s the main body of the e-mail:

screenshot-2016-12-08-10-52-01

Short text blocks provide an overview of the series, what the morning’s focus was, and the challenge for the students that week. There’s also a web button that sends parents to the section of the youth web page with the handout for that week and previous weeks. Above this text, there is a series logo, and there’s also a sidebar with my contact info, and a sentence or two about the next events coming up. At the bottom, there are links to the youth web page and social media pages. Short and simple, but informative and helpful!

Each week, I change this text up to include the main passage of Scripture we used in the lesson, and my prompt to parents changes depending on that week’s focus. I also do my best to set things up for them, so they have an easier time following up with their students. For this specific challenge, I provided the students with pre-stamped envelopes and blank notes, so parents would have a solid segue into conversation about that lesson and application. If I would have left students to find a note, envelope and stamp on their own, they would have been more likely to dismiss the challenge. Additionally, parents may have seen the challenge, but waited for their students to initiate something on their own…creating less of a chance for dialogue. Create simple methods that draw people toward substantial discourse, and you’ll be able to better prioritize your own strategic time away from attention-grabbing flash, and more toward purposeful content development.

Investment always requires risk.

Whether you’re talking about the stock market, the housing market, or youth leaders and teenagers trying out a hair-brained game (remember YOLO?), investment always requires risk.

Another casualty of our tech-flashy, attention span-less society is patience. We just want everything NOW. If something doesn’t work out the first time, or perhaps just not as well as we expect, we’re quick to dump it and try something else. Unfortunately, this not only happens with connection strategies, but also with relationships. The fast and flashy approach can be so attractive, but it’s an impossible long-term methodology to maintain, like a sugar rush. After a while, you will crash and burn, and the crashes get harder the longer you go. We need patience. We need a healthy long-term strategy.

When you finally get some good parent feedback, or a great response to a parent-equipping initiative, it will be like a breath of fresh, motivating air. But no general ever won decisive battles without having first tasted failure, and many of the best hitters in baseball history also have the highest amounts of strikeouts. Investing in the difficult, valuable practice of establishing great connections with your parents will involve frustration, but it’s well worth the risk. Try something, follow-up, re-evaluate, and try again. Celebrate, but keep evaluating. One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, identifies the reason for staying in the tension:

“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”

Nailing a putt may seem like the main accomplishment in golf, but it’s really an attempt to set you up well for the next tee box.

It’s all about the long game.

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