7 Family Friendly Youth Ministry Ideas w/o adding MORE events

My kids "cleaning" a playground during an ALL CHURCH "Faith in Action" event
to serve local schools on a Sunday after church  

How do you do parent ministry without adding more to anyone's schedule? Inspired by a post generating LOTS of good conversation over at Elle Campbell's blog about parent ministry, I will chime in my two cents! As I was thinking about my own "parent ministry" philosophy, I loved what  Adam McLane wrote (in response to someone else's comment):  

"Good Lord, getting invited to another thing is as far from Good News in my family as I can imagine!" -Adam McLane 

This little one liner is what resonated the most with me from the entire conversation. I have 3 kids (ages 22 months, 8, and 11) and when ONE MORE meeting, after church lunch, or "City-Wide" youth event gets added to my schedule... I get majorly stressed out at what is happening to my own family. I ask...when is too much too much? 

"Families are already too busy" is what I seem to be repeating at every staff meeting and every network meeting where we try to add MORE to a family or youth group schedule. Short answer? Help families with what they are already doing. That's the way I roll. 

So how do you do parent and "family" friendly ministry without adding MORE to the calendar?  Here are 7 ideas: 

The best help I've offered...driving! Yup..want me to pick your kid up from school and bring them to soccer? Done! Driving helps the parent (especially single moms or dads!) out BIG TIME and gives you a chance to chat and connect with the student as you take them from point A to point B. 

As a parent...I like sending my kid to the middle school service because he LOVES it so much. If I want my kid to "experience" big church and transition into loving big church (so he keeps attending as an adult) than I will take him to church with me. That's my call...not yours. If integrating my kid into the over all life of the church (by attending big church) is such a huge factor for long term faith development...than please HELP ME buy into that and decide it on my own. I don't need you to force me. If I want my kid to come to church with me, guess what?  I've got over 4 services to pick from. I can make it happen on my own, without you canceling your youth service. And yes...I do bring my middle schooler to big church, I am NOT an isolationist/let's keep the youth segregated all morning fan, I simply have not seen a better way (yet). 

When middle school service is canceled at our  (former) home church for a "Family Service" (in a church of over 8,000) I find a LOT more "wandering" students roaming the campus who don't have parents with them. The church is more crowded than usual, so there is no place to sit, and my own kids are bummed and grumpy that they have to go to big church. Parents are bummed and grumpy that they have to suffer for an hour and half with wiggly bored kids. Visitors are grumpy because there is no parking and no more seats. Security is (not bored) and grumpy because middle schoolers (the ones who didn't come with their parents) are running a muck. Where is the win here? 

Added October 2013: My new church in Grand Rapids does not have Sunday morning programming for 5-12th grade and is super intentional about that...creating much more family friendly worship services and age appropriate learning experiences. 

For my kids to mix it up with adults in the church (which is a huge priority!), we do things like serve the homeless. We participate in community clean up days with the church family. We join the co-ed softball team with the "big people." I look in the church bulletin and browse the church website to find things the church is already doing, and then bring students with me. See an example HERE.  I do want students to mix it up with adults in the church and find inter-generational activities to do together.  

Our genius Middle School Pastor does a parent pancake breakfast DURING the middle school service instead of adding one more lunch or evening out. Parents are ALREADY on campus and can pop on over and enjoy an informative parent meeting over yummy pancakes with their student. If the parent wants to stick around, they can still attend an adult service (...and take their student with them!) before or after the middle school one. Parents get a FREE breakfast, are already on campus (and younger siblings are in their classes...no babysitter needed!), and get to be a part of YOUR SERVICE. It's a WIN. WIN. WIN. 

5) ASK. 
Call up (don't wimp out and email!) each family in your ministry (the ones involved and the ones who are not!) at least twice a year and ask "How can we be praying for you (this will reveal a lot!)?"  and "Is there anything we can do to support or help you as a family?"  

Look at what is already happening...and do as much as you can with out adding MORE to their schedule. Does that make sense? 

6) ONE night a WEEK RULE
Except on very rare occasions, our student ministry refuses to be the reason our volunteers and students are away from families more than one night a week. So if ya want parents on your volunteer team....plan accordingly! Schedule volunteer team meetings on the same night they would normally be out at youth group (in our ministry it's Wednesday nights). So about 3 times a year, during normal seasonal transitions, we purposely DON'T have youth group and instead have a staff meeting in it's place.  Your volunteers and parents serving on your team will be glad to not have ANOTHER night out! Be strategic and don't be afraid to stop shop (best to check with other ministry departments so you can plan purposefully) and put something in the place of as opposed to in addition to what ya already have goin on. 

7) Double Book!
Last year a student leader came in to the youth room early on a Sunday to ask me if we had a student leader meeting after church. I said, "yup." His mom looked mad. Mad because it was "her" Sunday with him (she has him every other weekend) and it was getting cut short. Her son already had to be at church super early because he helps with the tech and he had to stay late for a monthly student leader lunch meeting. Six straight hours of being at church. A long day for everyone.  It dawned on me. My "ah-ha" Oprah moment. Maybe our student leader meeting isn't the best thing for families trying to spend more time together, not less. How many missed family lunches and bbq's occur because of our student leader meeting? So I took the hint and revamped it. Instead we do a once a month "breakfast" before youth service. During the first adult worship service (a lot of leadership kids come early anyways!) and before our student service, we have our leadership meeting. The student worship band are the only ones who suffer a bit from this change. The time they practice and run through the tech stuff gets shortened a lot once a month. But it's doable, and now no one stays late. No more missing Sunday lunch with mom. Guess what? Our student leader attendance went way up! 

idea: If you don't have multiple Sunday morning services at your church, chances are you can still pull off a before church leadership breakfast or be creative and figure out a time your students are already there (like maybe an hour before mid-week youth group?) and maximize it! Figure out how to add more, without adding more time away from families. 

Questions...for YOU!  
1) How do you run a parent friendly ministry without over doing it? 
2) What do you think about canceling Sunday morning youth programs to expose students to the adult service? How do you do that well? 
3) Would you rather cast a "sticky faith"  vision to parents, so they can take the initiative in bringing their students to big church with them (on their own)  as opposed to forcing it on them? 
4) What are creative ways you try to be inter-generational without adding more to the church calendar? 


  1. Great article with ideas that can be implemented easily -- Thanks for the inspiration. As a youth leader I try to take the "family" schedule into account. This is why I don't meet more often with the GURLS. I am working to develop a safe positive online place for them to interact and come together to supplement our actual physical gatherings. Have anyone created this type of space for their youth? What have you found to work the best.
    Jan P

  2. Thanks Jan for stopping by and commenting. It is always a win to be proactive in having a family friendly youth ministry. I use a closed group on Facebook to interact with youth group teens (mostly for communicating about events though).

  3. Love all of these ideas! We are trying to come up with ways to keep our families connected and informed without overdoing it. Its a delicate balance sometimes! So glad I found your blog!! Love it! I'm over at: theremodeledlife.com Although we have been hog wild this summer and I have neglected it dearly!! Looking forward to reading more here!


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